He also watched the playoffs from his couch.
The season in which Howard crushed an astonishing 58 home runs and drove in 142 runners the Phillies won 85 games but missed out on baseball’s second season. They finished in second place in the National League East by 12 games and missed the Wildcard by just three games. Despite all this, Howard still finished first in the MVP voting and took home the award.
Finishing in second place, and not too happy about it, was Albert Pujols. The Cardinals won just 83 games during the regular season, but it was enough to bring home the National League Central Division Championship. The Cardinals would go on to win the World Series that year, but Pujols was left without the other piece of hardware he felt he deserved.
Last season, Pujols won the National League MVP despite his team finishing in fourth place in the division with a record of 86-76. Pujols hit .357 on the year with 37 home runs and 116 RBI’s, while Ryan Howard finished as the runner-up with 48 home runs and 146 RBI’s. Howard’s Phillies would win 92 games during the regular season and end up winning the World Series.
Fast forward to this year and there seems to be another question as to who will take home the MVP trophy this season. Without question, Albert Pujols is the front-runner for the award as he has smashed 39 home runs already and has drawn 91 walks compared to just 50 strike outs. His .318 batting average and .441 on-base percentage are excellent and many of his numbers match his outstanding 2006 season.
Trailing him in most hitting categories but closing fast, is Prince Fielder. With his home run in last night’s contest, he now has six long balls in his last eight contests. In that span, Fielder is 10-31 with nine RBI’s.
It seems to be perfect timing for Fielder, who is poised to make a run at the MVP if he can finish August strong and make it through a tough September. The Brewers are fading fast in the standings, and if it weren’t for Fielder it would be going even faster.
However, if the Brewers can get back within shouting distance of the Cardinals for the Central Division and enter relevancy (say, five or six games back), then Fielder talks might begin to heat up. Looking back to 2006 this far into the season, Fielder is having a better season this year than Howard was then in all categories but homers (42 compared to 33) and slugging percentage.
Pujols has posted very similar numbers up to this point in the season as he did in 2006, and if Fielder continues this tear he could give the Cardinals first baseman a run for his money. Right now, no one can stop Fielder and he is doing all he can to help get the Brewers back to where they need to be.
Pujols has Matt Holliday waiting in the on-deck circle when he bats, meaning teams are now being forced to pitch to him instead of pitching around him. For Fielder, a mix of Casey McGehee, Mike Cameron, and Corey Hart has been the answer in the five spot, meaning teams are more reluctant to give Fielder good pitches to hit.
While it will be no easy task to pass Pujols in the MVP standings, the Milwaukee slugger’s recent surge at the plate has made it a competition. Combine that with Pujols’ average second half (.280, seven home runs), and Fielder could make some noise in the race if the Brewers can string together a few wins.