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National appeal (cont.)

Posted: Wednesday September 6, 2006 12:16PM; Updated: Thursday September 7, 2006 8:46AM
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Playoffs or not, Ryan Howard is a serious threat to win the NL MVP award in his first full season.
Playoffs or not, Ryan Howard is a serious threat to win the NL MVP award in his first full season.
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14. Brandon Phillips, 2B, Reds. After failing in Cleveland when he was considered one of the best prospects in baseball, he's found a home across the state, hitting 85 points above his career average entering the year (.206 to .291).

13. Brian McCann, C, Braves. If it weren't for Joe Mauer, someone might have noticed that Atlanta's got a young catcher who can hit, too. His .329 average is five points below his career minor league mark.

12. Jonathan Broxton, RP, Dodgers. This 6-4, 275-pound rookie isn't getting the national press, but people in baseball have taken notice. Big year for Jonathans (a great name if I do say so myself) in the bullpen.

11. Freddy Sanchez, 2B, Pirates. This isn't a fun list for Red Sox fans, as you'll find four players they surrendered. Sanchez went in a particularly bad trade before Boston started clutching tighter to its prospects. Looks like the batting champion.

10. Takashi Saito, RP, Dodgers. He became a surprise lifesaver for L.A. with closer Eric Gagne going down early.

9. Jose Valentin, 2B, Mets. He began the year behind Kaz Matsui and Anderson Hernandez on the second-base depth chart. A revelation.

8. Bronson Arroyo, P, Reds. New GM Wayne Krivsky made anáimmediate impression, importing an ace in Arroyo for talented yet flawed outfielder Wily Mo Pe˝a soon after getting the job. The move helped turn the Reds into a contender and cost the Red Sox the starter they would desperately need later. The perfect move at the right time for Cincinnati.

7-a, b, c, d. Marlins rookie starters: Scott Olsen, Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez, Ricky Nolasco. The 12 wins by Olsen impress me, but challenging the great Miguel Cabrera to a fight on the field impressed me even more. Johnson is one of three starters with an ERA below 3.00. Sanchez has been as good as almost anyone lately. And Nolasco has had his moments. As Joel Sherman of the New York Post recently pointed out, Dontrelle Willis is the only Marlins starter with a losing record.

6. Andre Ethier, OF, Dodgers. If it isn't enough that the Dodgers are producing their own future stars, they traded Milton Bradley and wrestled this gem away from the always-alert Billy Beane.

5. Dan Uggla, 2B, Marlins. A rare Rule 5 pickup that works -- the Marlins' scouts strike again.

4. Garrett Atkins, 3B, Rockies. He's so good he's going to force Colorado to make a corner outfielder out of top prospect Ian Stewart.

3. Hanley Ramirez, SS, Marlins. A superstar in the making. He can do it all, and to think Florida also got Sanchez and got rid of Mike Lowell's prohibitive contract in the same deal (for Josh Beckett), as well.

2. Jose Reyes, SS, Mets.áManageráWillie Randolph recently injected Reyes into the MVP discussion, and it's fair to say that in many ways Reyes has been the league's best all-around player, though it'll be tough to beat out Albert Pujols, Beltran and especially the man below for the honor. If there's an award for attitude, Reyes gets that: He arrived in Port St. Lucie two weeks ahead of schedule this spring.

1. Ryan Howard, 1B, Phillies. He's well within reach of Roger Maris' legit single-season home run record of 61 (asáSI.com'sáTom Verducci pointed out Tuesday). If he gets there, or if the reinvigorated Phillies get to the playoffs, the MVP award is his.

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