MLB Awards: 5 Early Candidates for AL MVP

Perry SchwartzCorrespondent IIIJune 9, 2011

MLB Awards: 5 Early Candidates for AL MVP

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    BOSTON, MA - MAY 30:  Adrian Gonzalez #28 of the Boston Red Sox hits a solo home run in the first inning as A.J. Pierzynski #12 of the Chicago White Sox catches on May 30, 2011 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
    Elsa/Getty Images

    With ten weeks of the Major League Baseball regular season officially in the books, we will take a look at the early candidates for AL MVP. 

    The following five AL players are enjoying spectacular 2011 seasons.

    If the season ended today, this would be a reasonably fair MVP ballot.

    Of course, things will inevitably change between now and the end of September. For all I know, none of the guys on this list will be crowned the 2011 AL MVP. 

    You may be surprised to find that there are no New York Yankees on this list, despite the fact that the Yankees lead all American League teams in home runs and slugging percentage. They also rank second in runs and are third in wins. Had we instead expanded this list to 10 players, then Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira would have certainly made appearances.

5. Kyle Farnsworth, CL, Tampa Bay Rays

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    ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 06:  Kyle Farnsworth #43 of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches in relief in the ninth inning against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during their MLB game at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 6, 2011 in Anaheim, California. The Rays defeated t
    Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

    Kyle Farnsworth was exactly who you expected to see at No. 5, right?  

    Now 35 years old and in his 13th big league season, Farnsworth has truly been invaluable to Tampa Bay.  

    The Rays have won 11 one-run games, the most of any AL team, in large part because of Farnsworth's clutch pitching. 

    In his first year with Tampa Bay, Farnsworth is 13-for-13 in save opportunities and has allowed just three earned runs in 23 innings (1.17 ERA). He is also 2-0 on the year and has an impressive WHIP of just 0.70.

    It may be safe to say that Farnsworth has little to no chance of maintaining this incredible kind of brilliance on the mound through the rest of this season. However, it is tough to that he has not been of the most valuable players to his respective team in the AL, up this point.

    Unfortunately, nobody in Tampa Bay seems to have noticed. Despite the fact that the Rays are just three games out of first place in the tough AL East, Tampa Bay currently ranks dead last in the league in attendance.  

4. Matt Joyce, OF, Tampa Bay Rays

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    ST. PETERSBURG - AUGUST 29:  Outfielder Matt Joyce #20 of the Tampa Bay Rays fouls off a pitch against the Boston Red Sox during the game at Tropicana Field on August 29, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Before the season started, it was unclear whether Joyce would even be an everyday starter for Tampa Bay. But after just 10 weeks, Joyce has shockingly emerged into an MVP candidate. 

    The 26-year-old outfielder had a very nice April to begin the season, hitting .321 with two home runs and 10 doubles. Then, he had a monster May, hitting .414 with seven home runs and 21 RBI, including an OPS of 1.229.

    Joyce currently ranks among the top three in the A.L. in batting average (.338), Wins Above Replacement (3.4), slugging percent (.597) and OPS (.997). 

    Prior to this season, Joyce's career was plagued by injuries. In fact, he has yet to play more than 92 games in a regular season. 

    Now, finally healthy for the first time, Joyce is already very close to reaching his career highs in home runs, RBI and total bases, and we are barely into the second week of June.

3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit Tigers

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    CHICAGO - JUNE 08:  Miguel Cabrera #24 of the Detroit Tigers swings at the pitch against the Chicago White Sox on June 8, 2009 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Miguel Cabrera (.322, 13 HR, 45 RBI) is having a typical year for his standards, which means another MVP-type year.

    Cabrera leads the AL in intentional walks and is second in the AL in On Base Percentage (.442), OPS (1.026) and Wins Above Replacement (3.4). 

    The Detroit Tigers, as a team, began the season with a record of just 12-17, but they have gone 21-11 since to pull within just a game and a half of first place in the AL Central. 

    However, if the Tigers once again fail to make the postseason, then Cabrera will likely finish between second and fifth in MVP voting for the fifth time in his career.

2. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Boston Red Sox

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    BOSTON, MA - JUNE 5:  Adrian Gonzalez #28 of the Boston Red Sox hits a home run against the Oakland Athletics at Fenway Park on June 5, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    From 2007-10, Gonzalez was the only major threat in the San Diego Padres' lineup. 

    The first overall pick of the 2000 MLB Amateur Draft, Gonzalez was stuck on an offensively challenged Padres team and received very few good pitches to hit per game. 

    But after being traded to the Boston Red Sox before the start of the season, Gonzalez has suddenly found himself in the middle of one of the most potent offensive lineups in all of baseball. As a result, opposing pitchers are less willing to pitch around him.

    He has been much more aggressive at the plate, which has paid off. In fact, after walking 212 times over the past two seasons, Gonzalez is on pace for just 54 walks this season. 

    Gonzalez currently leads the AL in hits (84), RBI (53) and total bases (142). He is also third in the league in batting average (.335). 

    As a left-handed hitter that frequently hits the ball the other way, Gonzalez has also made use of the green monster, which has certainly helped contribute to his high batting average.

    Best of all, even when Gonzalez has an off night, his teammates can pick up the slack. His supporting cast of David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, Carl Crawford, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and J.D. Drew is miles better than what he had in San Diego.  

    After a slow start, the Red Sox, all of a sudden, have the best record in the AL, and are a team that nobody wants to face in the postseason.

1. Jose Bautista, RF, Toronto Blue Jays

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    TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 22: Jose Bautista #19 of the Toronto Blue Jays prepares to swing at the ball during a game against the Seattle Mariners on September 22, 2010 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Matthew Manor/Getty Images)
    Matthew Manor/Getty Images

    After a fantastic 2010 display that seemingly came out of nowhere (.260, .378, .617), many felt that Bautista had no chance of maintaining his dominance at the plate. 

    Incredibly, Bautista is on pace for even better numbers season this year (.348, .502, .723).  

    Bautista leads all major league hitters in on base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs (20) and Wins Above Replacement (3.5).

    He has helped keep Toronto right around .500 all season and is the main reason that the Jays lead the AL in runs scored. 

    Even if Toronto misses the postseason, Bautista may earn MVP honors if he can continue his unbelievable play. His numbers would be simply too good to overlook, similar to Barry Bonds in 2001, 2003 and 2004.