NL MVP Race Going Down to the Wire

Casey Graziani

As the 2006 baseball season comes to a close, the debate over this year’s MVP is coming to the forefront of sports discussion. While there are many deserving players, four in particular have topped most short lists for this year’s award: Carlos Beltran, Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera.

With his dismal performance (16 HR/78 RBI/.744 OPS) in his first year as a Met, Carlos Beltran came back in 2006 to prove that he was worth every penny of his $119 million contract. Beltran overcame the jitters that affect many high profile New Yorkers (can you say A-rod?) and so far has posted a line of 39 HR/113 RBI/1.009 OPS. He boasts an absurd July in which he hit three grand slams, including two in consecutive games. Add in his above average defense in centerfield and his speed on the bases (17 stolen bases) and you have a stellar MVP candidate. However, Carlos (or any other Met for that matter) will have trouble getting votes because of the strength of the Mets lineup. When you have the fearsome lefty hitter Carlos Delgado batting after you and the talented David Wright batting next, you will get pitches to hit.

I feel Albert Pujols is not being given the credit he deserves as a legitimate candidate due to his lesser totals in comparison to sophomore sensation Ryan Howard. Even though Pujols has the edge in average, on base percentage and OPS, missing three weeks in June to injury has lowered Pujols’ power totals (he was projected in June to hit 80+ homers this season). Despite this, Pujols is still the game’s best slugger; it’s science. GQ recently published the results of a study that scientifically measured Pujols’ abilities and found that they compared to Babe Ruth. Still, batting .321 with 44 HRs and 116 RBIs, playing Gold Glove caliber defense and being the sole reason your team is at the top of your division doesn’t guarantee an MVP award nowadays. But simply by being Albert and keeping the Cards atop the NL Central, Pujols should

win, right?

That is unless of course, the aforementioned Howard or Marlins 3B Miguel Cabrera can lead their respected teams to a wild card berth. In his second year, Howard (.314 BA/56 HR/138 RBI) leads the league in runs created and has been compared to Big Papi and Barry Bonds. Interestingly, should he hit more than 61 home runs this season, he may be regarded as the legitimate single season home run leader in the post-steroid era.

As the “seasoned veteran” of the youth-driven Marlins, the 23-year old (no, that’s not a typo, he’s really 23) Cabrera is the Marlins’ best hitter with 25 home runs, 106 RBIs and a BA of .337. He could very well win a batting title, even with the minimal protection provided by Florida’s mediocre lineup. Cabrera is also one of the game’s most exciting players: on June 22, while being issued an intentional walk by Orioles reliever Todd Williams, Cabrera saw a pitch that was too close to the plate and slapped it to centerfield to score the game-winning run. Now that’s

heads-up baseball.

From this writer’s perspective, barring a wild finish in which the Marlins or Phillies make the playoffs, Pujols will be crowned this season’s MVP. Stay tuned next week as I break down the much publicized AL MVP race.