Mike Napoli and the Rangers' Top 5 World Series MVP Candidates
The 2011 World Series is now five games old. The Texas Rangers stand on the precipice of their first World Series Title. If this was a best-of-five series it would be over. The Rangers would have won and Mike Napoli would be the undisputed MVP.
It's not a five game series though. There are still one or two games left. More than enough time for another MVP candidate to emerge. It could be a Cardinal who rallies the team from their current deficit resulting in another title. It could also be a member of the Rangers.
Napoli makes a very convincing case but this trial is still in session and there is still time for another Texas Ranger to become the man most responsible for bringing a World Series Rings to Arlington.
It's a no-brainer right now but with one or maybe even two games left there's room for this to change. Mike Napoli is the World Series MVP as of Tuesday morning.
He's hitting .308, his ops is 1.235, he has two home runs and 11 runs batted in. The numbers are nice—until you consider that Pujols eclipsed them in just one outrageous Game 3 performance. What makes him the prohibitive MVP favorite right now is the circumstances under which he's performed.
It was Napoli's three-run home run that provided Derek Holland with enough breathing room to pitch into the ninth inning in Sunday's crucial Game 4. It was Napoli's bases loaded eighth inning double that provided the go-ahead and eventual game winning runs in Monday's Game 5.
The catching position is one of the few in baseball where the glove is afforded equal or even superior standing in the overall evaluation of an individual's performance. Indeed many (myself included) felt that the Cardinals had entered the series with an advantage at the catcher position. Yet Napoli has provided not just solid but great defense in this series. He's blocked some balls and in last night's low scoring and crucial Game 5 he threw out two would-be base-stealers as well as assisting on the game's final put-out.
Yadier Molina, the Cardinals catcher, has won the last three national league gold gloves for catching and seems poised to possibly win a fourth soon after the conclusion of this World Series. His offense was solid too. He led all major league catchers with over 400 at-bats in batting average this past season with a .305 average.
Napoli to his credit was coming off his finest defensive season as a catcher. He still managed to log only 369 at-bats this past season. That's in large part to arriving in Texas with a reputation for somewhat subpar defense and a questionable record of handling pitching staffs.
A result of years of platooning in Los Angeles under Mike Scioscia, indeed Napoli had been dealt, not once but twice this past offseason. First he went from Los Angeles to Toronto who decided to allow Jeff Mathis to platoon with up and coming youngster Hank Conger as well as take on the burdensome contract of Vernon Wells. Then he was sent from Toronto to Texas less than a week later in exchange for relief pitcher Frank Francisco and some cash.
What stands out about Napoli's season even before his World Series heroics is what he did in those 369 at-bats. He hit 30 home runs—if Napoli had managed even 500 at-bats this past season (DH/Catcher, whatever) he would be projected to have hit 41 home runs. Jose Bautista led the majors with 43. Would a catcher hitting over .300 with over 40 home runs and over 100 rbi have been an MVP favorite? Yes, he would have been.
Well Napoli defenders and loyalists need not be too worried because as of now he's a World Series MVP favorite.
Everyone knows that Derek Holland had a performance for the ages Sunday night. What we don't know is if he will get a shot to shut down St Louis again.
It could happen, and the results would of course play a huge role in the Series MVP race. What if St. Louis wins Game 6? What if St Louis won Game 6 by scoring a ton of runs? That could alter Manager Ron Washington's current plan to start Matt Harrison in Game 7. Or perhaps Harrison still gets the start but leaves early after allowing a few runs or too many men on base in the all important Game 7.
If that were to happen then Holland might get his chance. If Holland did take the mound again in this series and he were to perform in a similar fashion to what we saw this past Sunday in Game 4, then Holland's name wouldn't just enter the MVP discussion, it would end it.
Easily forgotten in the aftermath of Holland's dominance in Game 4, Pujols' Game 3 fireworks, and the tough luck no-decision that befell Jaime Garcia in Game 2 is that Colby Lewis pitched a pretty good game that night also: 6.2 innings, four hits, two walks and one earned run.
Lewis will take the mound on Wednesday night looking to pitch the Rangers to their first World Series Title in franchise history. If Lewis were to accomplish this with a dominant pitching performance on the road in St Louis then he'd immediately enter the MVP race and likely win it.
Pitching excellence in a clinching World Series Game has had a long history of earning MVP awards. Josh Beckett (2003), Tom Glavine (1995), Jack Morris (1991), Jose Rijo (1990) and Dave Stewart (1989) all won the award using this formula. Lewis could add to that history on Wednesday with a dominant outing.
Mike Napoli has grabbed the headlines, but which Texas Ranger leads the team in batting average, total bases, hits and runs scored in this series? Adrian Beltre, that's who.
Beltre, who won MVP of the ALDS against the Tampa Bay Rays already this postseason, may not be having three home run games in this series but he's still been one the best players on the field.
He's been his usual gold-glove caliber self over at third base—consistently making the tough plays look routine, firing little guided missile like throws across the infield to record easy outs that are in reality not-so-easy.
He is hitting .381 with 13 total bases and four runs scored. If his solo blast in the sixth inning, which tied the game at 2-2, is an indication that he's about to go on a power hitting binge then a one or two game stretch of prolific hitting may be all Beltre needs to capture the MVP award.
The World Series MVP award has been given out 58 times in Major League history and of those 58 only four times has a reliever won the award. The last two, John Wetteland in 1996 and Mariano Rivera in 1999 have been New York Yankees.
Feliz would be a prohibitive dark horse at this point but were the clinching game to come down to a close ninth inning and if Feliz were to go out and dominate—slamming the door shut on the Cardinals' season and locking up the Rangers' first title in one felt swoop—then he'd have a shot.
He's already saved two of the three Ranger wins and appeared in all three of them. He has five strikeouts in only 2.2 innings of work and an earned run average of 0.00. Working against him is that to this point he hasn't been totally automatic. He's walked three batters and also hit one, but he's given up no hits and it's hard to be too nervous if you're a Ranger fan and Feliz is on the mound.