Buster Posey could win the NL batting title.
Eight days remain in the 2012 MLB regular season. Is that enough time for anyone to overtake Buster Posey as the favorite for the National League Most Valuable Player Award?
Ryan Braun has an excellent case for consideration, ranking among the league leaders in all the important offensive categories. His power numbers are especially noticeable.
Andrew McCutchen is still hanging in there, despite the Pittsburgh Pirates' slide from playoff contention. He still perhaps best fits the "most valuable" criteria as the player whose absence would adversely affect his team the most.
The NL MVP Award looks like Posey's to lose at this point. But in our view, these are the top five contenders for the league's highest individual honor. Do any of the other four candidates still have a shot?
All statistics cited here are current as of Sept. 26.
Last week: No. 5.
With the New York Mets out of the playoff race and trying to avoid last place in the NL East (it appears that they will do so, being four games ahead of the Miami Marlins), David Wright may be swinging for the fences.
In seven games since last week's rankings, the Mets third baseman hit three home runs with seven RBI, the most among the five candidates on our list.
That put Wright at 20 home runs for the season, a nice round number for his season statistics. With 88 RBI, he's a long shot to reach 100 in that category. His final numbers would look good with 90 or 95 RBI, however.
For what it's worth, Wright should also add a Gold Glove to his achievements this year.
According to FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating, he's the best defensive third baseman in the NL. (Only the Kansas City Royals' Mike Moustakas ranks higher.) Wright has 18 Defensive Runs Saved and has saved his team almost 13 more runs than the average third baseman would.
Last week: No. 4.
The St. Louis Cardinals catcher maintains his lead over David Wright in this week's rankings, thanks to a solid week at the plate.
In his past six games, Yadier Molina batted 7-for-21 (.333) with two home runs and five RBI.
With St. Louis fighting for the NL's second wild-card playoff spot, Molina has been the Cardinals' most productive bat in September, not Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran or David Freese. Molina has a triple-slash average of .314/.405/.514 with four homers and 10 RBI.
(By the way, it appears that the Cards have that wild-card bid all but clinched with a 4.5-game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers and Milwaukee Brewers as of Sept. 26.)
Molina also provides excellent defense at the game's most demanding position. He's allowed four passed balls this season, the second fewest among qualifying catchers.
He's thrown out 48 percent of opposing baserunners (34-for-71) this season. Consider that those 71 stolen-base attempts equal the number of steals Brian McCann, for example, has allowed.
Last week: No. 3.
The playoffs aren't going to happen for the Pittsburgh Pirates this season.
The Bucs have fallen below .500, at 76-78, and sit 7.5 games behind the Cardinals for the NL's second wild-card spot. At this point, Pittsburgh should aspire for a .500 record.
That wouldn't be a small achievement, by the way. The Pirates haven't finished .500 or better since 1992.
Has the Pirates' second-half slide killed Andrew McCutchen's MVP chances? A 28-41 record since the All-Star break and 6-17 mark in September certainly won't help his case.
But McCutchen has done what he can to keep the Pirates afloat. In September, he's batting .289/.392/.566 with six home runs and 14 RBI. In his past seven games, McCutchen hit 8-for-28 (.286) with two homers and five RBI.
McCutchen leads the NL with a .408 on-base percentage while ranking second in slugging (.566) and OPS (.974). He could also win the league batting title if he maintains his current lead over Buster Posey in batting average.
Now that Melky Cabrera and his .346 average have been disqualified from winning the batting title, that puts McCutchen in position as the leader in that category. However, his .336 mark is only three percentage points ahead of Posey at this point.
So if McCutchen leads the NL in batting average and OBP, finishes second in slugging and OPS, and has 30 homers with close to 100 RBI, should that be enough to earn him the NL MVP Award?
Last week: No. 2.
The Milwaukee Brewers' improbable playoff run has probably come to an end. At 79-75 after two consecutive losses, the Brewers are 4.5 games behind the Cardinals in the NL wild-card standings with eight games remaining on the schedule.
Just as the Brewers are finishing strong with a 16-7 record in September, so is their top hitter. Ryan Braun batted 10-for-25 (.400) in seven games since last week's rankings, driving in six runs.
Milwaukee's left fielder is batting .360/.418/.570 with four home runs and 16 RBI in September. Those aren't Braun's best numbers for a month, but he still has eight games to add to those totals.
Despite not hitting a home run during the past week, Braun still leads the NL with 40 homers and should finish the season as the leader in that category, barring a superhuman week from Giancarlo Stanton or Jay Bruce.
Braun is also tied for the league lead in RBI with 108. His .317 batting average and .391 on-base percentage both rank fifth in the NL. His .598 slugging mark and .989 OPS are the best among NL hitters.
Does that mean he's placed too low in these rankings?
Last week: No. 1.
The San Francisco Giants clinched the NL West title on Saturday (Sept. 22), which could very well be the difference in the NL MVP race.
Buster Posey won't be the only player among the top five NL MVP contenders to make the playoffs (Yadier Molina will be the other), but that has been a major factor in his emergence as the top candidate for the award.
The Giants' run to an NL West title shouldn't be the only reason Posey should win the NL MVP Award. But it's certainly worth noting that he's batted .336/.400/.531 with 13 doubles, four home runs and 22 RBI since Melky Cabrera was suspended.
San Francisco put distance between itself and the Dodgers in the NL West with a 15-7 September (through Sept. 26). Posey has a triple-slash average of .350/.398/.575 for the month, helping to fuel the Giants' surge.
With Cabrera being ruled ineligible for the NL batting title, Posey could now finish first in batting average. His .333 mark is only three points behind Andrew McCutchen for the league lead.
Posey is also just one point behind McCutchen for the NL lead in on-base percentage at .407. His .543 slugging is the league's third-best mark as is his .949 OPS.
As with Molina, we also have to consider Posey's excellent defense at catcher.
His two passed balls allowed are the fewest in MLB and his 25 wild pitches are the second-lowest total at the position. Posey has also thrown out 30 percent of opposing baserunners (36-for-121). While that percentage might not be impressive, he's gunned down more basestealers than any other catcher this season.
Ryan Braun is making a strong charge at Posey for NL MVP honors. But the Giants' record, along with lingering resentment over Braun's offseason drug-testing controversy, will likely give him the nod in final voting.
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