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Maddon on Shohei MVP talk: ‘It’s not even close’

Shohei Ohtani‘s 99th pitch in the Los Angeles Angels‘ win Monday against the visiting Colorado Rockies was clocked at 100 mph. It ended the top of the seventh inning and registered as his 100th strikeout of 2021, a year in which he has also accumulated a major-league-leading 35 home runs before the end of July.

No pitcher who has ever recorded triple-digit strikeouts added more than nine home runs in the same season.

It was merely the latest example of Ohtani’s unprecedented greatness — and yet another reason why Angels manager Joe Maddon sees him as an easy choice for the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award.

“To me, it’s not even close,” Maddon said after a 6-2 victory from Angel Stadium. “When people talk about it being close — it’s not. It’s not. What he’s doing is so unique. It’s just so different compared to anybody else right now.”

Ohtani pitched seven innings of one-run ball in the opener of a three-game series against the worst road team in the majors, even though he recorded only five strikeouts. He relied heavily on his slider as his secondary pitch but went more frequently to his devastating splitter as he navigated through the Rockies’ lineup a third time. He departed the game with a 2-1 lead — and one of the Angels’ runs was manufactured by Ohtani himself, as he produced a run-scoring single and then stole his 14th base in the first inning.

The list of players with at least 35 home runs and 14 stolen bases before August is short — Christian Yelich (2019), Sammy Sosa (1999), Ken Griffey Jr. (1998), Jeff Bagwell (1994 and ’99) and Ohtani. Only Ohtani, of course, has combined that with any pitching prowess. His major-league-leading 6.2 FanGraphs wins above replacement make him a favorite for the AL MVP, but the Angels’ record — 50-49, five games out of the final postseason spot — might hinder him.

“I’m really happy to hear the MVP talks around me,” Ohtani said through his interpreter, “but right now I haven’t been able to finish both as a hitter and a pitcher in the same season, so that’s my main focus — staying healthy, finishing the season strong. If the award comes with it at the end, then I think that’s the best-case scenario.”

With four of six regular-season months nearly complete, Ohtani has combined a .277/.361/.679 slash line in 382 plate appearances with a 3.04 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 30.1 strikeout percentage in 80 innings. His offense has declined a bit since the All-Star break, but his pitching has significantly improved in the month of July.

Over his past three starts — since a dreadful first inning at Yankee Stadium in late June — Ohtani has allowed only three runs in 20 innings, issuing only one walk in that stretch.

“He’s so motivated, obviously,” Maddon said. “I mean nobody’s doing what he’s doing, and nobody’s done what he’s doing, if that makes any sense. He is so motivated.”

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