While the Chicago Cubs were messing with Lou Piniella’s jumpy systolics and the Milwaukee Brewers sputtered along, Albert Pujols wrapped his elbow, made a tentative offseason date with Dr. James Andrews in Alabama and swung the bat.
Due to the St. Louis Cardinals’ recently refreshed season – they, like Lance Berkman’s Houston Astros, are contenders (wild-card division) again – Pujols leads a long and bunched inventory of NL MVP candidates. But not by much.
Middle-of-the-order hitters that might have been marginalized because their teams would be playing an exhibition-style September are relevant again. It looked like a best-player-on-the-best-team season for the MVP, but the reputed best team – the Cubs – has lost eight of nine games, the next-best team – the Brewers – has lost seven of nine, and they’re chanting “MVP! MVP!” at Shea Stadium.
For Carlos Delgado.
“Sounds a lot better than the boos,” Delgado said late Tuesday night.
One way or another, they all showed up in the NL, with the notable exception of the defending MVP, Jimmy Rollins.
In no particular order, yet:
Cardinals' Albert Pujols, 1B.
• Carlos Lee: Another time, another place, a body that didn’t quit in early August, and Lee would have a realistic chance to overtake the bigger names ahead of him. He hasn’t played in a month, and his raw numbers – 28 home runs, 100 RBIs – still look good.
• David Wright: A good season. A really good season. Two factors hurt him. First, he has two teammates (Delgado, Carlos Beltran) with similar statistics, and Delgado has had a better second half. Second, he’s batting .238 with runners in scoring position. That’s 62 points lower than …
• Ryan Howard: Yes, he’s running up on 200 strikeouts. Yes, it took him almost two months to drive his batting average above .200. But, he does lead the league in home runs and RBIs. And that average with runners in scoring position? Better than not only Wright, but Delgado, Beltran, Ryan Braun and Ryan Ludwick.
• Carlos Delgado: He sure looked done. At 36, however, he’s back close to the swing that made him a semi-regular on MVP ballots for a decade. In other news, the guaranteed portion of his contract is nearing an end.
Cubs' Aramis Ramirez, 3B.
• Aramis Ramirez: He gets on base and he hits with runners in scoring position and, as of today, is the most productive hitter on what once was thought the best team in the league. That counts for something.
• Ryan Ludwick: It’s tough to win an MVP when you’re the second-best hitter in your lineup. Tougher still when no one had ever heard of/paid attention to you before. Here’s an MVP stat for you, though: He batted .362 in Cardinals’ wins, .219 in their losses.
• Carlos Beltran: He’d probably be third on a team vote of MVPs, but he’s simply had another Beltran year, for better or worse.
• Adrian Gonzalez: He won’t sniff the top 10 because his team hasn’t played a meaningful game all year, and left-handers have killed him all season. But, these kinds of numbers – 29 homers, 99 RBIs, .316 batting with RISP – in that feeble lineup and in that spacious ballpark are impressive.
• Ryan Braun: Last season’s Rookie of the Year hasn’t had quite the same kind of season; his batting average, on-base and slugging percentages are all down. He’s hung in there with a sore back and his numbers have rebounded in the second half.
• Lance Berkman: Had the Astros not all but given the season away in June and July, Berkman could be your MVP. His numbers come the closest to Pujols’, and among players with at least 100 at-bats with runners in scoring position his .355 is highest.
Braves' Chipper Jones, 3B.
• Chipper Jones: He’s pushing Pujols for the batting title (or he’ll finish second for the second consecutive year), and he’s right there with Pujols and Berkman in OPS. Jones has missed a lot of games, so he doesn’t have the production numbers of the other candidates. And, of course, his Braves have been terrible.
• Matt Holliday: The kind of season we’ve come to expect from Holliday, who not only won the NL batting title last season but finished second to Rollins in the MVP balloting. The difference – he’s down 12 home runs and 56 RBIs going into the final two weeks – is two weeks on the DL, along with the fact he’s hitting .287 with RISP, down from .333 last season, and he’s come out slow in September.
• Chase Utley: Utley tailed off in the second half; he has 12 home runs since May after hitting 19 in the first two months. Oddity: While his power numbers are better at Citizens Bank Park (whose aren’t?), his batting average and on-base percentage are significantly better on the road.