NL MVP Rankings: Cardinals' Matt Holliday Swings into the Top 5
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Each week, a new contender for National League Most Valuable Player seemingly emerges to make the race for the award that much more interesting.
Last week, powered by 11 homers, 22 RBI and an 1.100 OPS in July, the Arizona Diamondbacks' Jason Kubel hit his way into the MVP discussion. His output has helped the D-Backs surge to within 2.5 games of the NL West lead.
Yet Kubel falls out of our rankings this week. How did that happen? Well, somebody else has been playing even better. Matt Holliday should arguably have been on this list at least a week or two ago. An impressive five-game stretch has boosted his candidacy, even surpassing teammate Carlos Beltran for MVP consideration.
Not on the list for the second straight week—though his numbers warrant a place in the top five—is Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto. Not only hasn't he played since July 15, but the Reds have won 13 of 16 games without him. Once Votto comes back, however, he'll surely return to this list.
That leaves the following five players as the leading contenders for the NL MVP award. Please leave your responses and suggestions in the comments. They're definitely considered when putting this list together each week, as shown by Holliday's entrance into our rankings.
5. Melky Cabrera, San Francisco Giants
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Last week: No. 3.
One of the comments for last week's rankings dismissed Melky Cabrera's MVP candidacy by saying all he does is hit singles. Is that like Buddy Ryan's infamous remark about Cris Carter? "All he does is catch touchdowns?"
For one thing, Cabrera hits a lot of singles. He leads the major leagues with 142 hits. His .348 batting average ranks second. But Cabrera also has 20 doubles, eight triples and 10 home runs this season. He's not just slapping the ball over the infield.
In my opinion, the best argument against Cabrera's MVP candidacy is that he's not the best offensive player on his team. Buster Posey is batting .313 and leads the San Francisco Giants with 14 home runs and 62 RBI.
But without Cabrera cranking out hits from the No. 3 spot in the lineup—where he has a .943 OPS this season—Posey, Pablo Sandoval and now Hunter Pence don't have as many opportunities to produce runs for the Giants. Getting on base is going to be even more important for Cabrera with another big bat joining the lineup to drive runs in.
4. Matt Holliday, St. Louis Cardinals
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Last week: Unranked.
Judging from several of the comments for last week's NL MVP rankings, Matt Holliday was the player that many felt was wrongfully snubbed from consideration. To me, he was close to making the top five, but Jason Kubel's recent surge couldn't be ignored.
Additionally—and some might disagree with this—I questioned just how valuable Holliday really was on a team that also featured Carlos Beltran, David Freese, Yadier Molina and Allen Craig.
Both Holliday and Beltran lead the NL with 75 RBI. Doesn't that speak to the good fortune each player enjoys by playing in such a strong lineup?
Of course, even if a player is presented more RBI chances by playing in a better lineup, that batter still has to capitalize on those opportunities by coming through with hits at the right time. Picking those moments to display power doesn't hurt either.
So rather than look at the talent that surrounds Holliday, it's probably more fair to look at Holliday's actual performance and the resulting numbers he's putting up.
Over his past five games, Holliday hit 8-for-21 (.381) with five homers and 11 RBI. As mentioned above, he's now tied for the NL RBI lead and has the fourth-highest home run total in the league. Holliday's .325 batting average ranks sixth, his .408 on-base percentage is fourth and his .969 OPS is the sixth-best mark among NL hitters.
If Holliday and his fellow Cardinals batters could help push the team closer to the Reds and Pirates in the NL Central race, that would surely help his MVP candidacy.
3. David Wright, New York Mets
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Last week: No. 5.
Moving David Wright up a spot might seem curious with the New York Mets all but falling out of the NL East and wild-card playoff races.
But Wright keeps on hitting, doing what he can to keep the Mets alive. Since last week's rankings, he's hit 6-for-21 (.286) with two doubles, a home run and four RBI.
Even while the Mets spiral downward, Wright continues to rank among the league leaders in almost every offensive category.
His .333 batting average is the fifth-best mark in the NL and his .71 RBI are tied for the fourth. Wright's 424 on-base percentage places him third while only three other NL hitters have a higher OPS than his .981.
That's why Wright continues to stay in these rankings while the Mets slide out of the playoff race. Players like Matt Holliday and Jason Kubel might eventually squeeze him out, but Wright's numbers are still too good to overlook.
2. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
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Last week: No. 2.
Ryan Braun has become something of a polarizing figure among baseball fans because of the drug-testing controversy he went through during the offseason.
For some, testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance and elevated levels of testosterone invalidated his MVP award for last season. But the handling of Braun's test sample was questioned, resulting in an acquittal.
Besides, his performance this year would seemingly demonstrate that Braun isn't the product of PED use. He's just really that good.
Braun leads the NL with 29 home runs and is second in the league with 73 RBI. His 1.002 OPS ranks third among NL batters, one of three players with an OPS over 1.000.
The reigning NL MVP is also racking up these numbers despite playing for a Milwaukee Brewers team that holds fourth place in the NL Central with a record of 48-56. The Brewers are 15 games behind the first-place Reds in the division.
Lingering questions about PED use and his team's poor record will ultimately prevent Braun from winning a second consecutive MVP award. That might raise the question as to whether or not Braun should be so high in our rankings. But remember, he's No. 2 because we took Joey Votto off our list of candidates (for now).
Braun is having the best year of any NL player not named Votto or McCutchen and should be ranked as such.
1. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
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Last week: No. 1.
Andrew McCutchen just finished a month of July during which he batted .446/.510/.739 with seven home runs and 15 RBI.
David Freese (.458 average) and Ryan Zimmerman (10 homers, 24 RBI) also had a great July, yet McCutchen still bested them with a 1.249 OPS.
With that hitting explosion, McCutchen has a .373 batting average that leads the majors. And he leads by a significant margin, 25 percentage points ahead of Melky Cabrera and Mike Trout.
McCutchen also has the second-highest on-base percentage in baseball at .432, and his .632 slugging percentage is by far the best in the majors (23 percentage points above David Ortiz). Joey Votto is just ahead of McCutchen for the major league lead in OPS; but while Votto is out with a knee injury, McCutchen may just overtake him in that category.
With that performance, McCutchen has almost single-handedly carried the Pirates into playoff contention, three games behind the Reds in the NL Central, but three games ahead of the Cardinals for a wild-card playoff spot.
It hasn't been a one-man show as Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker and Garrett Jones have contributed with solid production. But McCutchen is playing at a whole other level. Could he get even better now that he has some additional offensive help with the call-up of Starling Marte and acquisition of Travis Snider?
The mind boggles at the possibility of McCutchen getting even better. It doesn't seem possible since he's already playing so well. But many things didn't seem possible with this Pirates team and McCutchen have already exceeded such expectations.
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