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News » You want politics? Just look at NL MVP race

You want politics? Just look at NL MVP race

You want politics? Just look at NL MVP race
Now that the politicians have left the stage, we can turn our attention to an even wilder campaign.

National League MVP.

The race goes at least 10 deep, and includes the equivalent of two third-party radicals — Brewers left-hander CC Sabathia and Dodgers left fielder Manny Ramirez.

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Factor in the animosity between the various constituencies — sabermetricians, bloggers, fanboys and mainstream baseball writers — and the potential exists for a nastier debate than anything Obama and McCain will deliver.

We all have our own definition of MVP. Many sabermetric types hate the subjective aspect, the seemingly ever-changing standards of the voting baseball writers. I love the ambiguity, the arguments, the angst. If the award were for highest OPS or highest VORP, the process would not be nearly as fun.

As a member of the Baltimore-Washington chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America, I will vote this season for AL MVP, NL rookie and NL manager. Several newspapers no longer allow their writers to vote, forcing individual chapters to ask selected members to participate in more than one election.

The A.L. MVP race suddenly is wide-open — my early favorite, White Sox left fielder Carlos Quentin, will undergo surgery Monday, have a screw inserted into his fractured right wrist and be re-evaluated in two to three weeks. His absence will enhance the emerging candidacy of Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia and perhaps create opportunites for others such as Twins first baseman Justin Morneau and White Sox right fielder Jermaine Dye.

The NL race, though, is a free-for-all. Several candidates will be on display Saturday when the Phillies visit the Mets and the Diamondbacks visit the Dodgers (MLB on FOX, 3:55 p.m. ET). The winner almost certainly will be determined in the final three weeks, perhaps even the final weekend.

A look at the field:

The frontrunner

Albert Pujols, Cardinals. If the Cardinals stay in contention, Pujols should be a lock. Problem is, the team is fading, potentially damaging Pujols' chances. The Cardinals, coming off a 1-5 trip to Houston and Arizona, are now five games out in the wild-card race.

The idea that an MVP should come from a contender is reasonable, if not measurable. Meaningful games, played under increased pressure, offer a greater test of a candidate's mettle. Still, the Cardinals have contended to this point. The only way Pujols should lose the award is if another candidate vaults his team into the playoffs with a dramatic finish.

Pujols leads the National League in batting average (.360), on-base percentage (.468) and slugging percentage (.640). He is a Gold Glove defender at first base, and lest anyone forget, he has played all season with a sprained elbow ligament. In spring training, when the Cardinals' hopes appeared slim, some thought he should undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery.

The radicals

Sabathia. In 1984, Rick Sutcliffe won the Cy Young Award after getting traded from the Indians to the Cubs in mid-June, finishing 16-1 with a 2.69 ERA. Imagine if Sabathia, traded from the Indians to the Brewers in early July, finished 14-0 with a sub-2.00 ERA. He would be a legitimate candidate for the Cy Young and maybe an even better candidate for MVP.

Sutcliffe made 20 starts for the Cubs in '84; Sabathia projects to make 16 for the Brewers. The obvious question is whether a starting pitcher would merit the MVP with such a limited workload. However, Sabathia is averaging eight innings per start, saving the Brewers' bullpen, impacting games on days other than he pitches.

Dennis Eckersley won the 1992 American League MVP award despite pitching only 80 innings as the A's closer. Sabathia, with five starts remaining, could end up pitching 120 to 130 innings for the Brewers.

Ramirez. I can't support his candidacy, not after he quit on the Red Sox to force his way out of Boston. But Ramirez's .407-.500-.735 batting average/on-base/slugging line with the Dodgers is ridiculous. In 140 plate appearances, he has produced 10 homers and 29 RBIs.

Granted, two months of Ramirez should not carry the same weight as say, six months of Pujols. Then again, if Ramirez slugged the Dodgers into the postseason, his contributions would be impossible to ignore. Playing every day, he might have an even better case than Sabathia, who pitches only every fifth game.

The contenders

Ryan Braun, Brewers. A Brewers' surge, Cardinals' collapse and uninspiring finishes by candidates in the East and West could make him the favorite. Braun is red-hot in the second half, first in the league with 77 extra-base hits, seventh in OPS.

Lance Berkman, Astros. A worthy top-five contender, Berkman will merit an especially long look if the Astros continue their improbable second-half run. He trails only Pujols in OPS and is third in the league with a .358 batting average with runners in scoring position.

Aramis Ramirez, Cubs. True, Ramirez is the league's top slugger with runners in scoring position, but is he even the Cubs' MVP? A case could be made for catcher Geovany Soto, right-hander Ryan Dempster, setup man Carlos Marmol, even infielder/outfielder Mark DeRosa. Ramirez is 19th in the league in OPS, DeRosa 20th.

Jose Reyes, Mets. Freed from the tyranny of Willie Randolph, Reyes is back to his old dynamic self under Jerry Manuel. OK, Randolph wasn't that bad, but Reyes certainly looks better off without him. His defense has improved since the change in managers, and his offensive portfolio is stunning — 34 doubles, 18 triples, 13 homers, 47 stolen bases, a .365 OBP.

The darkhorse

Carlos Delgado, Mets. Incredible turnaround by another of Les Miserables under Randolph — I thought Delgado was finished, as did many others. Since June 27, Delgado is tied with the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera for the major-league lead with 20 homers and is first in the NL with 60 RBIs. Problem is, on May 26, he was batting .215-.294-.387, and he went only 4-for-32 in the first nine games after Randolph's firing. Yes, he got hot before Sabathia and Ramirez even entered the league. But MVP, that would be stretching it.

The longshots

Ryan Howard, Phillies. Not all that he appears. Howard leads the league with 39 homers and 119 RBIs, but his .236 batting average would be by far the lowest ever by an MVP, "beating" Marty Marion, who batted .267 in 1944. Howard's .325 OBP and .502 SLG also would be among the lowest ever by a 40-homer man, and he's no Pujols at first base.

David Wright, Mets. Difficult to compare with Reyes, who is an entirely different type, but Wright falls short when compared to Braun, a more similar player. Braun has a higher OPS and is far better with runners in scoring position; Wright is batting only .238 in those situations. Wright is a better defender at third than Braun is in left, but Braun fares well in the Bill James Online plus-minus ratings, ranking eighth among qualifiers at his position.

Chase Utley, Phillies. Remember all the talk early in the season about Utley becoming the Phillies' third straight MVP? Utley remains, at minimum, a top-10 candidate, but he was batting .369 on May 3, and has hit a mere .270 since.

Stephen Drew, Diamondbacks. Take a look: Drew plays an up-the-middle position and stands a chance of finishing with 40 doubles, 10 triples and 20 homers. Only two shortstops in history have reached those totals in the same season (minimum 125 games at short), according to STATS LLC: Robin Yount in 1980 and '82 and Nomar Garciaparra in 1987.

Matt Holliday, Rockies. Fourth in the league in OPS, he would become more prominent if the Rockies staged another miracle finish. Don't count on it: The Rockies are six games out in the West with 21 to play, nine games under .500 for the season.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: September 6, 2008

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