NL MVP Rankings: Ryan Braun Makes a Charge at Buster Posey for the Top Spot

Ian Casselberry@iancassMLB Lead WriterSeptember 19, 2012

NL MVP Rankings: Ryan Braun Makes a Charge at Buster Posey for the Top Spot

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    Two weeks are left in the 2012 MLB regular season and the race for the National League Most Valuable Player Award is getting tighter.

    What appeared to be a two-man race between Buster Posey and Andrew McCutchen has now been crashed by Ryan Braun, thanks to the Milwaukee Brewers' September surge into playoff contention. How each player—along with their respective teams—performs in the season's final weeks will surely determine who wins the league's highest individual honor.

    One casualty in this week's rankings is St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday. Holliday has fallen off pace with the competition in September, especially during his past six games. That opens up a spot for a new candidate, one who's breaking into the top five for the first time this season.

    With that said, here are the five leading candidates for the NL MVP Award. The next couple of weeks should make for a very exciting finish among the top contenders and it's going to be fun to watch.

5. David Wright, New York Mets

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    Last week: No. 5.

    Players with higher home run totals like Jay Bruce, Chase Headley and Giancarlo Stanton could seemingly supplant David Wright's place on this list. Maybe one of them will in the final weeks of the 2012 season. 

    The New York Mets third baseman has slumped in September, hitting .255/.305/.309 in 59 plate appearances with three extra-base hits. Despite that slide, however, Wright continues to rank among the league's top 10 hitters with a .310 batting average, .397 on-base percentage and .887 OPS.

    Wright is also playing excellent defense at third base, according to FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating. He's the best defender at that position in the NL, saving his team more than 12 runs above the average third baseman. Wright is also credited with 16 Defensive Runs Saved for the season. 

    The Mets' poor September performance has done Wright no favors, of course. The team is 4-11 for the month and has lost 11 of its past 13 games.

    Perhaps team performance shouldn't factor into MVP consideration. But it does among award voters, especially when the other top MVP candidates are on teams in playoff contention. 

4. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Last week: Unranked.

    The St. Louis Cardinals catcher makes his season debut in our NL MVP rankings. Yadier Molina has been on the verge of cracking the top five for weeks, but Matt Holliday continued to get the nod among Cardinals hitters.

    Holliday has slumped badly in September, however. For the month thus far, he's batting .208/.333/.415. In six games since last week's rankings, Holliday hit 2-for-22 (.091) with one home run and two RBI.

    Over the same span, Molina hit 8-for-19 (.421) with two doubles, a home run and two RBI. During September, he's hitting .306/.414/.469. As Holliday and Carlos Beltran have faltered, Molina has picked up his offensive production. 

    That's pushed Molina's batting average up to .322, the fourth-highest in the NL. His .379 on-base percentage and .885 OPS also rank among the league's top 10 hitters. 

    However, Molina stands out most with his defense at catcher. He's thrown out 89 percent (32-of-36) of opposing basestealers. Those 36 attempts show that teams know better than to try and run on Molina. He's also allowed four passed balls and 20 wild pitches this season.

3. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Last week: No. 2.

    Andrew McCutchen isn't going to give up the NL MVP Award without a fight, it seems. 

    The Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder is batting .293/.414/.534 with four home runs and nine RBI thus far through September. In six games since last week's rankings, he hit 7-for-20 (.350) with two homers and three RBI. 

    McCutchen is second in the NL with a .339 batting average, leads the league with a .410 on-base percentage and ranks third in slugging with a .562 mark. His .972 OPS is the second-best in the league. 

    So why has McCutchen dropped a spot in this week's rankings?

    With two weeks remaining in the regular season, McCutchen still has time to produce big numbers. And the Pirates still have an outside chance at winning the NL's second wild-card spot. 

    But McCutchen's closest competitors in the MVP race have outplayed him in September. The Pirates have also fallen further behind in the NL playoff picture and have even been overtaken in the wild-card standings by Ryan Braun's Milwaukee Brewers. 

    The primary argument with McCutchen, however, is that the Pirates wouldn't even be in playoff contention without him. That should go a long way with awards voters. 

2. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Last week: No. 3.

    The strongest argument against Ryan Braun contending for a second straight NL MVP Award is that the Milwaukee Brewers were out of the playoff race.

    If winning the NL Central and qualifying for the postseason was the major difference in Braun getting MVP honors, then it only seemed fair to knock him down a notch if his team was struggling.

    But the Brewers have been one of the hottest teams in the MLB as of late, going 12-4 in September and narrowing the Cardinals' wild-card lead to 2.5 games. 

    Braun is a big reason for that, as he leads the NL with 40 home runs and is tied for the RBI lead with Chase Headley. He also has the league's highest slugging percentage at .601 and top OPS at .990. 

    Add in the Brewers' pursuit for a playoff bid and his case for a second consecutive MVP looks even stronger. 

1. Buster Posey. San Francisco Giants

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    Last week: No. 1.

    Of the top five NL MVP Award candidates listed in our rankings this week, Buster Posey might be the only one whose team will make the playoffs. 

    The San Francisco Giants have all but locked up the NL West title and a bid in the postseason. The Giants currently hold an 8.5-game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers, the second-largest first-place margin among MLB's six division leaders.

    Should his team's performance give Posey the MVP Award? No, but award voters have obviously placed a premium on playing for a winning team and qualifying for the postseason. So the Giants' success certainly helps Posey's chances.

    But it's not like Posey hasn't earned the honor on his own merit. His .333 batting average is the third-best in the NL and his .409 on-base percentage is one point below the league lead in that category. Posey also ranks among the NL's top four hitters with a .542 slugging percentage and .951 OPS. 

    If Yadier Molina is to get credit for his defense at catcher, then Posey also has to earn strong consideration because of his play behind the plate.

    Among qualifying catchers, no one at the position has allowed fewer than the two passed balls Posey has given up. Posey's 24 wild pitches allowed are also the second-fewest.

    No catcher has thrown out more basestealers than Posey, who's gunned down 36. But opponents have stolen 80 bases in 116 attempts, which indicates that Posey isn't getting much help from his pitchers when it comes to holding runners. 

     

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