Aug 22, 2023; Cumberland, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Braves right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. (13) reacts after hitting a ground rule double against the New York Mets during the eighth inning at Truist Park. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The race for National League Most Valuable Player has taken lots of twists and turns. And the season has produced plenty of candidates, including a rookie who's making a name for himself, a hitter who's chasing .400, a 40-40 contender and one of the most consistent players of a generation. As a result, the competition for the league's most prestigious individual award has been special to watch.

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Here are my three finalists entering the season's final stretch.

The Front-Runner: Ronald Acuña Jr., RF, Atlanta Braves

The Braves are the best offense in baseball. They lead MLB in runs scored and are on pace to break the Minnesota Twins' record of 307 home runs in a single season. And while many have contributed to the offensive success, the man who makes the lineup go is Atlanta's superstar outfielder — Acuña Jr.

If it wasn't for a torn ACL during the 2020 season, the Braves' leadoff man likely would have achieved this level of production awhile ago. Acuña has not only been the most dynamic player this season, but he also has shown a power-speed combo the league hasn't seen since the early 2000s. With 28 homers and 56 stolen bases through Tuesday, the Venezuelan star has an outside chance to reach the 40-40 threshold, which I predicted before the season.

He is the best player on the best team. And when you mix in the historical nature of his season, it'll be hard to beat out Acuña for the top spot in NL MVP voting.

The Runner-Up: Freddie Freeman, 1B, Los Angeles Dodgers

Since Freeman arrived in L.A., nothing has slowed down the former World Series champion. After finishing fourth in NL MVP voting last season, Freeman has amped up his level of production. If it were any other season, he would be the front-runner for the award. Some players don’t always handle being on the same team with other great players, but Freeman and Mookie Betts have almost sharpened each other's games.

The seven-time All-Star currently leads the majors in doubles (45) and ranks third in OPS+ (162), runs scored (102) and hits (163), showing that players over 30 still have a lot left in the tank. He already has one MVP award on the mantle, and with another top-5 finish coming at season's end, the road to Cooperstown is starting to get clearer.

The Dark Horse: Matt Olson, 1B, Atlanta Braves

It’s almost poetic that this MVP candidate replaced the guy listed above in Atlanta, and both have been able to thrive in their new home. Olson has always had the potential for big-time power with his large frame and smooth left-handed stroke. The potential for a 40-homer season was always present.

This year, Olson has made that a reality with the best offensive season of his career, already blasting a career-high and MLB-best 43 home runs with over a month left in the season. He also leads the majors in RBIs (108) and is second in NL slugging percentage (.594). The Atlanta area native has quickly become a fan favorite.

Does Olson benefit from hitting in an absolutely stacked lineup? Yes. But does he strike as much fear in opposing pitchers as anyone in that lineup? Absolutely. Don’t expect that to stop anytime soon.

Honorable Mentions

  • Mookie Betts, RF/2B/SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
  • Corbin Carroll, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
  • Cody Bellinger, OF/1B, Chicago Cubs
  • Luis Arraez, 2B, Miami Marlins
  • Christian Walker, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks

If things hold, this year's NL MVP race will be Acuña's to lose. But history has shown that the final six weeks of a season is more than enough time to make up ground.

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