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NL MVP Rankings: Melky Cabrera Makes Push, Matt Kemp Presents Dilemma

Ian CasselberryMLB Lead WriterJune 23, 2016

NL MVP Rankings: Melky Cabrera Makes Push, Matt Kemp Presents Dilemma

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    In last week's NL MVP rankings, we mulled over the dilemma of Ryan Braun's candidacy, asking whether his offseason drug-testing controversy will ultimately prevent him from winning a second consecutive MVP award.

    Matt Kemp is now presenting a different sort of conundrum. After missing two weeks with a hamstring injury, Kemp returned to the Los Angeles Dodgers lineup this week. On Wednesday, however, in just his second game back, he re-aggravated the hamstring while running the bases, and it appears as if he could go on the disabled list yet again.

    With his absence, Kemp no longer has the necessary number of plate appearances to be listed among the league leaders in any offensive category. He's currently 13 PAs short of the 157 required to qualify. So can Kemp truly be considered an MVP candidate if he hasn't logged as much time as his peers? 

    Keeping that in mind, let's look at this week's top five contenders for the NL MVP award.

Honorable Mention: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Last week: Honorable mention

    As we said last week, Ryan Braun's numbers definitely warrant strong MVP consideration. His 1.003 OPS is fifth in the National League. His 14 home runs rank second, and his 36 RBI are the fifth-best total among NL hitters.

    Will MVP voters hold Braun's positive test for testosterone against him, though, even if he was acquitted of the results due to questions about how his urine sample was handled? And how much will the Milwaukee Brewers' current fourth-place standing in the NL Central hurt his case? Braun's numbers are impressive, but enough so to overlook his team's poor performance?

    Braun probably would have broken into our list of top five MVP candidates with Adam LaRoche's struggles (6-for-26 in his past seven games), knocking him out of contention. However, Braun had his own troubles at the plate over the past week, batting 4-for-24 (.167).

    That said, with two homers, five RBI and eight walks, he's still providing offense for the Brewers. That should keep him in MVP conversation through the rest of the season.

5. Melky Cabrera, San Francisco Giants

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    Making his debut in our NL MVP rankings is a player San Francisco Giants fans likely thought should have been listed among the top five contenders for a while now.

    Melky Cabrera has been a revelation for the Giants this season, cranking out hit after hit for a lineup regularly starving for offense.

    His eighth-inning single Wednesday night gave Cabrera 51 hits in May, tying the franchise record for most hits in a month. As USA Today's Jorge Ortiz writes, no major-leaguer has racked up 50 hits or more in a particular month since Carl Crawford did so in 2007.

    Cabrera had an impressive April, batting .300/.366/.422, but he exploded in May, compiling a .429/.457/.647 slash average to go with seven doubles, five triples, three home runs and 17 RBI.

    With 78 hits, Cabrera leads the big leagues. That's seven more hits than Derek Jeter has in the AL and 12 more than the nearest NL batters, Rafael Furcal and Michael Bourn. Consequently, Cabrera also has the second-highest batting average in the majors at .373, while his .417 on-base percentage ranks fifth in the NL.

    Trading pitcher Jonathan Sanchez for Cabrera has been a brilliant deal for Giants general manager Brian Sabean thus far. At the time, the trade looked like a sell-high deal for the Kansas City Royals, with Cabrera having a breakout 18-homer, 87-RBI, .809-OPS season. That performance, however, isn't looking like a fluke now.

    Up next for Sabean and Cabrera is working out a contract extension. Cabrera's emergence as a top hitter is coming at just the right time for him.

4. David Wright, New York Mets

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    Last week: No. 2

    After surging to the second spot in our NL MVP rankings, David Wright slips to No. 4 on this week's list. The New York Mets third baseman had a rough week, batting 6-for-31 (.194), though he did notch two doubles, a homer and five RBI.

    Those who were wondering if Wright could bat .400 for the season can probably shelve that curiosity now. Wright was still batting .400 as of last week's rankings, but this recent bad spell dropped his batting average to .365. That's still outstanding, of course, but pretty far below the .400 mark.

    Wright's average is now the third-best in the NL, behind Melky Cabrera and Philadelphia Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz. His .463 on-base percentage still ranks first, though, tied with the Cincinnati Reds' Joey Votto, and his 1.028 OPS is the third-best total in the NL.

    The Mets are still hanging around first place in the NL East, now 1.5 games behind the Washington Nationals. That should help Wright's MVP case, even if his numbers continue to take a dip.

3. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

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    Last week: No. 4

    Moving up one spot among the NL MVP contenders is Joey Votto, who had an outstanding week at the plate. In the eight games since last week's rankings, Votto batted 12-for-27 (.444) with five doubles and three walks to go with a homer and RBI.

    That surge has pushed Votto to the top of the NL in OPS at 1.060. His .463 on-base percentage is tied for first in the league as well, fueled by 43 walks, nine more than the next closest hitter, Dan Uggla of the Atlanta Braves. 

    Votto's home run and RBI numbers lag behind the league leaders due in part to the top of the Reds' batting order struggling to get on base. However, Votto is hitting for extra bases, as his .598 slugging percentage indicates. That figure is fueled by 22 doubles, which leads the big leagues, four ahead of the Red Sox's Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz and the Yankees' Robinson Cano.

    With 12 wins in their last 18 games, the Reds are asserting themselves in the NL Central, building a 1.5-game lead over the sliding St. Louis Cardinals. That success, coupled with Votto heating up, should keep Votto a leading MVP candidate for the rest of the season.

2. Carlos Beltran, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Last week: No. 3

    David Wright's slump is certainly a factor in Carlos Beltran moving back up to the second spot in our NL MVP rankings, but Beltran did plenty to deserve a push himself. 

    In his past eight games, the Cards right fielder batted 9-for-30 (.300) with two home runs and seven RBI while continuing to fight a sore right knee that relegated him to pinch-hitting duty on Wednesday night. 

    Though Beltran has been a consistent source of offensive production for a Cardinals lineup that's suddenly had to deal with many injuries, the team's recent skid has knocked it out of first place in the NL Central. The Cards have lost nine of their last 14 games, including series losses to the Dodgers, Phillies and Braves. They no longer look like one of the best teams in the NL.

    Obviously, that could change at any point. There's so much baseball left to be played. However, if the Cardinals continue to slide further down the division standings and it feels like they've taken a step behind the Reds, that won't help Beltran's MVP candidacy.

    Of course, if the Cardinals get back on the winning track and Beltran's bat is a big part of that turnaround, he'll look like a hero. Each scenario looks equally possible, depending on how the Cards' injured players come back to make a contribution.

1. Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Last week: No. 1

    Matt Kemp is still the front-runner among this week's top five NL MVP candidates, but keeping him at the top of our rankings is beginning to feel like an exercise in stubbornness.

    Taking him out of consideration due to injury seems unfair. Is Kemp still not the best player in the NL when he gets back on the field?

    However, that's developing into the point behind the dilemma of keeping Kemp in these rankings. His strained left hamstring hasn't allowed him to get on the field. Because of that, Kemp no longer has enough plate appearances to qualify for a place among the league leaders in each MLB batting category.

    That includes FanGraphs' WAR (Wins Above Replacement) rankings, by the way, where he's not listed right now. 

    So if Kemp isn't able to log the same number of plate appearances and defensive innings as his fellow NL position players, should he still be considered better than—or at least as good as—the other top hitters in the league?

    The answer might come with the results of the MRI exam Kemp will undergo on his hamstring after re-aggravating it while running the bases on Wednesday night. He was clearly running with discomfort  as he came around to score on Andre Ethier's first-inning double.

    The Los Angeles Dodgers' worst fears were confirmed when he limped back to the dugout, hobbled down the stairs and then smashed a bat in frustration over his hamstring failing him yet again. After the game, Kemp said the hamstring felt even worse than when he originally injured it. That would seem to indicate that he could be gone for longer than the 15 days he sat out before coming back this week.

    Missing that much time has to take Kemp out of MVP consideration. He could come back fully healthy and start crushing baseballs all over the ballpark, as he did to begin the season. With that, he'd obviously become a leading candidate again. Sitting out for what could become more than a month would be a huge factor to ignore, however.

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