Handicapping the MVP Races
Breaking down the best bets in both leagues
By Adam Hoff
If you’ve ever been to this web address in late August then you know what time it is. That’s right, time to break down the MVP races in each respective league. There is nothing like throwing all those gaudy numbers down on paper and then arbitrarily choosing which guy is best. Gotta love it.
The American League has been the dominant league this year (by far) and the winner of the hardware should probably get a bigger trophy than his NL counterpart. Which is ironic, because the Junior Circuit has been the league that has had some shaky winners this decade (plus it is ironic because it is called the Junior Circuit). This year there is no such problem. Here are the five guys with the best shot to take home the hardware heading down the stretch:
5. Vladimir Guerrero. He’s getting no pub, but the perennial candidate has been anchoring a pretty brutal Angels offense all season. Guerrero is hitting .322 with 27 home runs, 15 steals, and 99 RBI and continuing to break out his howitzer of an arm on occasion. As long as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (I don’t even have a joke for this anymore) are in contention and Guerrero is playing in at least 85% of the games, he is pretty much automatically in the top five every year.
4. Justin Morneau. Morneau and the Twins continue to lurk. If Minnesota wins the wild card and Morneau goes nuts down the stretch, he could be your dark horse candidate. He’s hitting .317 with 31 homers and 108 ribbies and if you want to know anything more about my love for this particular lefty, just go back to the last column.
3. Derek Jeter. He’s the seven-time winner of the “Most Kissed-Up-To Player” Award, but he’s never had such a good shot to win the MVP trophy. The Yankees are running away with the AL East and Jeter has been the guy carrying the load. Yes, Jason Giambi has sterling power numbers, but it is the Bronx Bombers’ captain that has been driving the offense. Jeter is second in the AL with a .334 batting average, has driven in 76 runs, scored 89 times, and stolen 26 bases. His defensive abilities have become wildly overrated in recent years, but the fact remains that he mans an important position and plays full speed at all times.
2. David Ortiz. I know the Red Sox are fading, but how can you deny Big Papi his rightful place on this list? He leads the AL (by far) with 46 home runs and 120 RBI and could wind up with 60 jacks and 150 RBI, which would be numbers too good to deny. Throw in the fact that he comes through in the clutch time and time again and the fact that he Manny Ramirez are pretty much the only guys on Boston’s roster that can hit these days and you are looking at a pretty legit candidate. That said, in addition to the always-prevalent DH concerns, he’s going to have a really rough time overcoming his team’s awful skid.
1. Jermaine Dye. Konerko is a rock in the White Sox lineup and Thome got all the attention early in the season, but Dye has quietly had an absolutely monster season and you could argue that Chicago is only in the wild card race because of their rightfielder. Dye hitting .325 with 37 home runs and 99 RBI, leading his team and ranking in the top five in the American League in each of the Triple Crown categories. He’s also second in the league in slugging percentage and doing a terrific job manning right field every night for one of the top teams in the league. It seems crazy, but when you combine offense, defense, consistency, and team standing, Dye is my leader in the clubhouse.
Lets pretend for a minute that anyone cares about the NL and just rock this.
5. Lance Berkman. Normally you wouldn’t draw a candidate from a team with a record below .500, but the NL has so many mediocre teams there is really no choice. And Berkman’s numbers are spectacular: .310/34/103 with a 1.024 OPS. Put him on the list!
4. Miguel Cabrera. Here is another player from a sub-.500 team, but in this case you have to look beyond the numbers. Cabrera is literally the only good player to return to the Marlins offensive and he has no protection in that lineup, yet he is hitting .341 (second in the NL) and has driven in 93 runs while carrying the young Florida team on his back. Not only that, but the Marlins are actually only six games out of the wild card spot and rank ahead of both Houston and Atlanta. Granted, there are six teams ahead of the Fish, but considering the low expectations (a major understatement) going into the season, they are having a great year. Cabrera is quietly leading the way and just hammering the ball, day in and day out. All of that said, the NL race is between the next three guys.
3. Ryan Howard. I just have a feeling about this one. The smart money is probably on Pujols or Beltran, but with the Phillies charging toward the wild card, Howard has a legit shot at taking the prize. He’s leading the National League in home runs (44) and RBI (113) and has become an absolute monster in the middle of Philadelphia’s order. He will probably need to keep jacking home runs (in addition to Philly continuing to win games) to overcome his lofty strikeout totals, but if he can finish with 55 bombs and 140 RBI, he might be able to overwhelm voters with his sheer power numbers, much like Ortiz in the AL. In fact, the similarities between Ortiz and Howard are kind of astounding. Both are enormous lefties known entirely for the bat and not at all for the glove. Both have great personalities. Both were left in the minors for far too long before getting a chance to play every day. And both are amassing incredible numbers while playing in very tough baseball cities. The only problem? In my most important fantasy league I missed each of them by a single pick. I need to move on before I get upset.
2. Carlos Beltran. Beltran’s nightmare season of a year ago feels more like a lifetime ago at this point. He’s smashing home runs, stealing bases, making obscene catches, and winning games left and right. Hey, I guess being healthy is fairly important after all. (All the writers and fans who slammed him last year when he was struggling while playing hurt should be forced to write Beltran apology notes.) He’s hit 36 home runs with 103 RBI and is serving as the centerpiece of the league’s best team. As Larry David would say, he’s a “pretty, pretty, preeeeeeeettttty, pretty” good candidate.
1. Albert Pujols. It is very hard to argue with just etching Pujols’ name on the trophy for the next five years. The guy missed over 20 games and is still second in the NL in RBI (107), third in home runs (38), and third in average (.328) while also running away with the slugging percentage and OPS crowns. The man is just a beast. Here is the problem for Pujols: the Cards aren’t the wrecking crew they’ve been the past few seasons. If St. Louis manages to squander both the NL Central crown (they lead the Reds by a half game) and the wild card, Pujols may have to kiss his second MVP award goodbye. Don’t worry though, he’s still going to wind up with about five of them when it is all said and done. Don’t forget for a minute that we are watching one of the greatest right-handed hitters in the history of the game.
Adam Hoff is the columnist for WhatifSports.com.