If the National League Most Valuable Player Award was based solely on individual performances and never factored in team success, then Albert Pujols would probably win the award every year.
But with the St. Louis Cardinals a distant memory in the playoff race, Pujols will merely finish in the top five this year. Instead, the league MVP seems destined to be determined by the outcome of the playoff races.
If the Philadelphia Phillies win the East or the Wild Card...
Ryan Howard or Chase Utley should win the award, with my prediction being Howard. He currently leads the majors in home runs and RBI, and assuming he stays atop in both those categories, it's hard to not give it to him, especially considering the tear he's been on the last month (.283, 11 HRs, 30 RBI).
Perhaps the biggest argument against Ryan Howard isn't his .244 batting average, but rather the fact that he is in the same lineup with Utley and last year's MVP Jimmy Rollins. I definitely could see Howard and Utley costing each other votes.
If the Houston Astros win the Wild Card...
Lance Berkman would be my National League MVP, and I don't think it would be even close. Right now, Berkman is fourth in average, third in on-base percentage, second in slugging, ninth in RBI, 15th in HRs, first in doubles, second in runs, eighth in hits, fourth in walks, and 23rd in steals.
The point these numbers make is that he has literally given the Astros everything they have needed this year and then some, and he has done it without Carlos Lee the past month and no leadoff man all year.
If the New York Mets win the East...
(And the Phillies miss the playoffs) Carlos Delgado has become the Mets' (and ESPN's) front-runner for the award, but he's not even the most valuable player on that team. Both David Wright and Carlos Beltran are having better years than Delgado, and they have been doing it all season.
Everybody has praised Delgado's hot streak over the past month, but Beltran has been just as impressive. Beltran is hitting .344 with eight HRs and 23 RBI over the past month, and he plays Gold Glove center field in a spacious ballpark.
Meanwhile, Wright has more RBI, doubles, runs, walks, and steals than Delgado and hits 25 points higher. Delgado has had a nice stretch, but New York hasn't been able to count on him all season like they have relied on both Beltran and Wright.
The MVP debate has always been my favorite because there are seemingly infinite possibilities to defining how the award should be decided. Rarely does a player on a losing team win the award (Alex Rodriguez 2003), and I believe that you're team must be in the thick of the playoff hunt at the very least.
You can make a case for all of these great players, therefore it comes down to the outcome of their respective playoff races. Just as it should.