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Can Cleveland Guardians 3B José Ramírez crash the American League MVP race?

Cleveland Guardians third baseman José Ramírez could be headed for a fourth career top-3 MVP finish.

CLEVELAND — For much of the season, the 2022 American League MVP race has consisted of two players -- if that.

But while New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge and Los Angeles Angels designated hitter/pitcher Shohei Ohtani have been considered the top contenders for the award, Cleveland Guardians third baseman José Ramírez is now making a late-season push.

Making no mistake, the award is still very much Judge's to lose. According to the FanDuel Sportsbook (via SportsBetting.com), the Yankees star is a heavy favorite at -1075 odds, which gives him an implied probability of 91.5 percent of winning the award.

Ohtani -- the reigning A.L. MVP -- ranks second, at +650. Ramírez, however, now ranks third at +10500, having separated from a field that also includes Seattle Mariners outfielder Julio Rodríguez, Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Houston Astros designated hitter Yordan Álvarez, who each possess +25000 odds.

In the analytics-obsessed world of baseball, it's tough to imagine a scenario where Ramírez closes the gap on Judge or even Ohtani. Entering Thursday, the Guardians ranks fourth in the American League in FanGraphs' WAR (wins above replacement) stat at 5.6, but trails Judge (9.7) and Ohtani (8.2) by a sizable margin.

Factor in the uniqueness of Judge's pursuit of the single-season home run record -- he's hit 57 with a little less than a month remaining in the season -- and Ohtani's status as the ultra-rare pitcher/position player and Ramírez doesn't have quite the same sizzle as the top two contenders for the award. That's not to take away from the 29-year-old's impressive campaign, however, as he has helped carry Cleveland's offense to what is currently a four-game lead in the American League Central Division.

Ramírez's importance to the Guardians was on full display on Wednesday, as his two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning helped Cleveland beat Ohtani's Angels 5-3, completing a three-game sweep of Los Angeles in the process. The Guardians have now won six straight games heading into a pivotal nine-game stretch in which they'll face the Chicago White Sox four times and the Minnesota Twins five times.

That Cleveland is even in the position that it's in at this point in the season is remarkable considering that many penciled the Guardians in for a rebuilding year. Offensively, Ramírez has been carrying the load, leading the team in home runs (27), RBI (111), runs (79), total bases (277), slugging percentage (.531) and OPS (.887).

"I know there have been some really special players this year, but José deserves to be in the (MVP) discussion," Guardians pitcher Cal Quantrill told reporters after Wednesday's game. "At least in the discussion at the end of the year."

At this point, Ramírez — who possesses three top-three MVP finishes to his credit — is there, even if it's unlikely he'll actually win the award for what would be the first time in his career.

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