Tulowitzki's hot hitting not enough to propel him into MVP chase
Troy Tulowitzki's candidacy is hurt by an injury that has kept his stats down
CC Sabathia still leads AL Cy Young race, but Felix Hernandez has pitched better
Jason Heyward has slipped past Jaime Garcia for NL Rookie of the Year favorite
With just two weeks left in the regular season, there is still surprisingly little decided with regard to the major awards and a solid chance that the final two weeks do little to clarify matters. One of the questions readers of this column might ask is, "Where's Tulo?" The Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki has been on another planet this month, hitting .351/.407/1.000 in September with 14 home runs and 34 RBIs. Tulo's 14 homers and 31 RBIs over a recent 15-game stretch marked the most impressive 15-game outburst in September in baseball history, passing Hank Greenberg's 12-homers, and 32 RBIs in 15 games in September 1940. Tulowitzki, however, has not cracked my top three for National League Most Valuable Player.
The reasons why are fairly straightforward. As hot as Tulowitzki has been, he missed more than a month with a broken wrist mid-season, which both carved a chunk out of his total value for the season and suppressed his counting stats. Even with his recent outburst, he's 13th in the league in home runs with 26, behind fellow middle infielder Rickie Weeks and 14th in RBIs with 89 behind the likes of Casey McGehee and Adam LaRoche. Also, as of right now, the Rockies aren't in a playoff position, and though they've been as hot as Tulowitzki this September (13-5, .722, including a recent 10-game winning streak), they're still in third place in both the NL West and wild card races and 3 1/2 games out in the latter.
It's not unheard of for late-season hot streaks to propel players to the MVP. The most recent example being Ryan Howard, who hit .385/.562/.750 in September 2006 and hit 23 home runs with 62 RBIs over that season's final two months, but Howard's performance was sustained over a longer period. Miguel Tejada was helped by the A's 20-game winning streak in late August into September 2002, but that team won 103 games and its division. Chipper Jones in 1999 had the aid of both a division title for his Braves and a sustained late-season surge that actually lasted all of the second half of that season, as Jones hit .349/.485/.756 with 31 home runs and 65 RBIs from July 1 through the end of the regular season. Greenberg won the American League MVP in 1940, but his Tigers won the pennant in a close race against the Indians. Tulowitzki gets graded on a curve because he's an elite fielder at shortstop, but given the time he missed and the strength of his competition, I'm guessing he won't get serious MVP consideration unless his current hot streak can lift the Rockies into the postseason, and even then, his teammate Carlos Gonzalez, who has been on fire since July, would be a better choice.
NOTE: All stats are through Sunday, September 19. League leaders are in bold, major league leaders in bold italics. The number in parentheses after each player's name reflects his rank on the previous list. Rookies are players who, before the current season, have had fewer than 130 at-bats or 50 innings-pitched in the majors or have spent fewer than 45 days on the active roster before rosters expand on September 1.
With Josh Hamilton out since September 4 with bruised ribs and Miguel Cabrera suffering through his worst month (.192/.254/.327), the AL MVP race is suddenly wide open to the eight candidates who should appear on every ballot: Hamilton, Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Jose Bautista, Paul Konerko, Adrian Beltre, Evan Longoria and Joe Mauer. Mauer might be the first player you'd eliminate from that list, if only because his performance this season (.331/.407/.473, 9 HR, 74 RBIs) falls so far short of his otherworldly MVP campaign of a year ago. Konerko would probably be next to go because he's only been the second-best first-baseman in his own division, behind Cabrera. The same logic eliminates Longoria, who hasn't been as good as fellow AL East third baseman Beltre on either side of the ball. Of the remaining five, only Hamilton and Cano are on teams headed for the postseason. That shouldn't matter, but it typically does to the voters, so lock those two in.
The remaining three of Cabrera, Bautista, and Beltre present the most consistently productive hitter in the league this year (Cabrera), a completely unanticipated break-out season that is about to result in the first 50-plus home run total in either league since 2007 (Bautista), and a fantastic offensive season from arguably the game's best defensive third baseman (Beltre). I expect Beltre to be unfairly overlooked, and though Bautista has been a sensation, I think his .262 average and lack of star power coming into the season will work against him. That leaves a top three that, if the season were to end today, might still look like this:
1. Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers (2)
Season Stats: .361/.414/.635, 31 HRs, 97 RBIs, 8 SBs
2. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers (1)
Season Stats: .326/.417/.611, 34 HRs, 118 RBIs
3. Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees (3)
Season Stats: .325/.386/.548, 28 HRs, 102 RBIs
1. Joey Votto, 1B, Reds (1)
Season Stats: .324/.424/.594, 34 HRs, 104 RBIs, 15 SBs
With just two weeks left in the season, the Triple Crown hopes of recent weeks have faded. Neither Votto nor Albert Pujols has any real chance of catching Carlos Gonzalez in batting average, and unless Gonzalez starts hitting like his teammate Troy Tulowitzki, he's not going to close the seven-home-run gap by which he trails Pujols. With the Triple Crown out of the picture, the MVP should go to Votto, who not only leads Pujols in all three slash stats, but whose Reds are well on their way to upsetting Pujols' Cardinals in the NL Central.
2. Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies (2)
Season Stats: .340/.382/.605, 32 HRs, 107 RBIs, 23 SBs
Tulowitzki is grabbing all the headlines with an out-of-his-mind September (.351/.407/1.000, 14 HR, 34 RBI), but, in part due to time lost to injury, even that absurd performance hasn't pulled him up into the MVP picture. Besides, Gonzalez isn't hitting a home run every day, but he is hitting .441/.519/.662 on the month, continuing a hot streak that extends back to July 1, when Tulo was still on the DL. Gonzalez's deficit in on-base percentage and the likelihood of the Rockies missing the playoffs should keep him from taking home the hardware, but he's a solid second place in what long seemed like a two-man race between Votto and Pujols.
3. Albert Pujols, 1B, Cardinals (3)
Season Stats: .307/.404/.589, 39 HRs, 107 RBIs, 12 SBs
The counting stats are there, but relative to his own absurd standard, Pujols' rate stats are down this season. In the course of winning the last two NL MVPs, he averaged 42 home runs and 125 RBIs, totals within his reach this year, but also hit .342/.452/.656, which is yet another level of awesomeness above what he has accomplished in 2010. Expect Pujols to be penalized a bit for failing to live up to his own past performance, and even moreso for the failures of his Cardinals in the NL Central, however unfair either of those demerits might be.
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