Michael Cuddyer Leapfrogs Joe Mauer in American League MVP Race

Ronald MexicoCorrespondent ISeptember 23, 2009

With just a few more games like the one Tuesday night, Michael Cuddyer could steal the American League MVP award right out from under his teammate’s nose.

Sure, Mauer has done some incredible things this year.

He sat out the entire first month of the season with back problems, only to return in May and have one of the greatest offensive months in baseball history.

Though Mauer came back down to earth in the following months, he is still on pace to drive in 97 runs with 30 homers, all while maintaining an unheard of .372 average and .442 on base percentage.

Also, consider that Mauer is a catcher, the toughest position to fill in all of baseball. Mauer has put together a season worthy of MVP consideration, no doubt about it.

The only problem is that the season isn’t over yet.

Just 10 days ago, I would have been able to give you the names of 30 ballplayers more valuable to their respective teams than Michael Cuddyer. Today, with less than two weeks left in the season, that number may now be zero.

Ten days ago, Michael Cuddyer was on pace for another pedestrian season on a pedestrian team. The Twins were two games under .500, third place in their division, and five and a half games out of the playoffs.

Through the next nine games, Cuddyer hit five home runs and drove in a whopping 15 runs.  During that span, the Twins went eight and one, pulling within two and a half games of first place.

The numbers don’t tell the whole story.  On Sept. 14, Cuddyer hit a game-tying eighth-inning home run against Cleveland. Two nights later he had three hits (including one homer) and three crucial RBIs during another win over the Tribe.

The next series was against first-place Detroit, and Cuddyer once again rose to the occasion. On Sept. 18 he hit a two-run homer in a 3-0 victory for Minnesota. The following night he came up with two men on in the eighth inning of a 3-2 game, and promptly hit another three-run homer.

Tuesday night was just the exclamation point of an unbelievable stretch of September brilliance. All knotted up at five in the sixth inning of a (surprise!) must-win game for the Twins, Cuddyer hit the first pitch he saw over the right field wall to take a one-run lead that the Twins would never relinquish.

Mauer put together a historic season in 2009, but the MVP award is about more than just statistics. Minnesota needed someone to fill the gaping hole at first left by Justin Morneau, and Cuddyer has responded by single-handedly dragging the Twins back into contention for the AL Central.

Cuddyer played his best this season when his team needed him the most. Keep in mind, the Twins were only 14-16 during Mauer’s torrid May.

The statistics argument is difficult to overcome, but it’s not impossible. Though Cuddyer’s average may not compare to that of Mauer’s, their power numbers are nearly identical.

And anyone who doesn’t think a player with Cuddyer’s totals can win the MVP title should look at the MVP season Barry Larkin had in 1995. Barry was a scrappy clubhouse leader on the division-winning Reds. He also had 15 home runs and 66 runs batted in.

At the end of the day, the Twins can only benefit from what is suddenly shaping up to be an MVP race for the ages.