Best of the best

Tim Brown
Yahoo! Sports

There were lists, then lists within the lists, then notes within the lists within the lists.

Then Prince Fielder would hit another home run.

And Jimmy Rollins would get three more hits. Then steal two more bases.

And David Wright would score a run, then another.

And Matt Holliday would not miss a fastball.

So, the lists changed, giving Chipper Jones another day hitting .395 in September, and Chase Utley time for another gap shot, and Ryan Howard another chance to pick him up.

With only a long weekend left in the regular season, the men vying for National League MVP are bunched closer than Willie Randolph's trips to the mound, though perhaps lacking the waves of nausea.

They also represent a trend that's been coming in the National League since Barry Bonds' run of four consecutive MVPs ended after 2004. Albert Pujols and Ryan Howard grew up and stepped in and, other than Jones, what we have now are a dozen or so players on the right side of their primes, on contenders and making them so.

So Rollins, Utley and Howard, none yet 29, have drawn the Philadelphia Phillies to the shadow of the New York Mets, who resist (occasionally) with Wright, 24. Holliday, at 27, pushes the Colorado Rockies to 10 consecutive wins, just as Fielder, 23, leads the Milwaukee Brewers on the field and in their clubhouse.

They are all valuable. Ask their managers.

But, most valuable?


Prince Fielder, Milwaukee Brewers

His savage left-handed cut brought 50 home runs in a season at a younger age than any player in history. While he lacks the batting average of most of the other candidates, Fielder leads them all in slugging, all but Jones in OPS, and his .394 on-base percentage is more than respectable. What also gets this vote is the manner in which he leads, the depth of his commitment to a team that so desperately needed someone like him, a team that had gone a quarter-century without winning. The Brewers looked like they were dying to fold all summer. And in September, when it could be won back, Fielder is batting .354 with 11 home runs and 22 RBI.

First runner-up:

Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies

The rarest of athletes, Rollins talked, then he walked, and then he helped keep the Phillies coming when the Mets were fading. He said they were the team to beat in the NL East and now, seven months later, it looks like they finally are. Batting leadoff, Rollins has hit 30 home runs and driven in 91. Then, he's also done the leadoff-type stuff. He has scored 136 runs, 15 more than Hanley Ramirez, the next-closest in the NL. And he has stolen 37 bases – fifth in the league (and probably not all he could have given Chase Utley and Ryan Howard coming up behind him) – in 43 attempts. Rollins also plays some of the best shortstop in the league.

Second runner-up:

Matt Holliday, Colorado Rockies

Holliday put up massive numbers in a lineup (and a ballpark) that has those capabilities. Yes, he was better on Blake Street than anywhere else. Yes, a home run with less friction is still a home run, and Holliday has 36 of those, along with 132 RBI, a .402 on-base percentage and a 1.009 OPS. Like Fielder in Milwaukee and Jones in Atlanta, Holliday had plenty left at the end, even while nursing a side strain. In September, he has 12 home runs and 27 RBI. And, yes, seven of the home runs were in Colorado, and so were 13 of the RBI.

Honorable mention: David Wright, New York Mets; Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies; Chipper Jones, Atlanta Braves; Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals; Miguel Cabrera, Florida Marlins; Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins; Carlos Lee, Houston Astros.


Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees

Rodriguez not only had one of the great offensive seasons in history, but his daily approach and cumulative statistics cut through all of the usual organizational crises, public psychoanalysis and trailing paparazzi that has marked his term in New York. The MVP will be his third, his second in New York, and first in a potential walk year. Almost certainly, it will be his most satisfying, at least until his first postseason strikeout. His 53 home runs, 151 RBI and 24 stolen bases settle some of the argument about Rodriguez's place in Yankees lore, but there remains the issue of his last three playoff series, and so A-Rod starts fresh in about a week.

First runner-up:

Magglio Ordonez, Detroit Tigers

Ordonez, of course, picked a bad time to have his best season. When so much else was crumbling for the Detroit Tigers (most of it pitching related), Ordonez (it appears) will win his first batting title, and stands among the leaders in RBI (136, behind only Rodriguez), OPS (behind Rodriguez and David Ortiz) and on-base percentage (behind Ortiz). And nobody – not Rodriguez, not Ortiz – has as many doubles as Ordonez's 52. All that, and he gets second place.

Second runner-up:

David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox

If we've got this quite right, Ortiz will have knee surgery this winter, basically because the knee needs it a little more than the shoulder or the back, and he's taken to refusing cortisone injections because he'd rather not mask the pain that reminds him what hurts. Through that, he – along with some nice support work done by Mike Lowell and Dustin Pedroia, along with some pitching – drove the Red Sox to their first division title in 12 years, put up the best OPS in the game, drove in 116 runs and batted .330. And when the Red Sox needed one more little push, when Manny Ramirez was still healing and the Yankees had turned everyone's armpits in Boston to slush, Ortiz hit .341 and drove in 25 runs in 24 games.

Honorable mention: Vladimir Guerrero, Los Angeles Angels; Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners; Jorge Posada, New York Yankees; Victor Martinez, Cleveland Indians; Mike Lowell, Boston Red Sox; Curtis Granderson, Detroit Tigers; Carlos Pena, Tampa Bay Devil Rays; Torii Hunter, Minnesota Twins.

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