Posted: Monday May 23, 2011 1:05PM ; Updated: Monday May 23, 2011 1:23PM
Cliff Corcoran

NL MVP race is wide open (cont.)

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National League

Lance Berkman
Lance Berkman has regained his stroke at the right side of the plate, hitting .303 there after batting just .171 a year ago.

1. Lance Berkman, RF, Cardinals (5)

Season Stats: .338/.451/.662, 11 HRs, 35 RBIs

Last Three Weeks: .189/.441/.432, 3 HRs, 12 RBIs

The hits haven't been dropping in for Berkman the last three weeks (.138 BABIP), and he missed three days at the end of last week due to a sore wrist, but he's still second in the league in batting average, on-base percentage, and home runs, fourth in RBIs, and leads the league in VORP and in slugging by nearly than 100 points. His play in rightfield undermines that production somewhat, but with those numbers and the Cardinals in first place, he's the most obvious choice at the moment.

2. Ryan Braun, LF, Brewers (1)

Season Stats: .299/.390/.565, 12 HRs, 37 RBIs, 10 SBs

Last Three Weeks: .224/.306/.382, 2 HRs, 14 RBIs, 7 SBs

In addition to leading the league in home runs and RBIs, Braun is leading the NL in total bases and is second in runs and slugging percentage. He also has an outside shot at a 40/40 season should he keep up his current pace (which currently has him set for 41 home runs and 34 stolen bases, the stolen bases being the easier portion of the equation for players who can get close). With his Brewers just 3 1/2 games behind Berkman's Cardinals in the NL Central, Braun currently looks like the player most likely to take home the actual hardware at the end of the season, but for now, the sixty points of on-base percentage and nearly 100 points of slugging by which he trails Berkman carry the day.

3. Matt Kemp, CF, Dodgers (HM)

Season Stats: .316/.399/.537, 10 HRs, 32 RBIs, 12 SBs

Last Three Weeks: .224/.321/.418, 4 HRs, 13 RBIs, 4 SBs

I allowed Kemp's sub-par play in centerfield to keep him out of the top five three weeks ago, but, as with Berkman, his production at the plate demands inclusion this time around. Kemp may not be a very good centerfielder, but the simple fact that he is a centerfielder should boost his candidacy given that the bulk of his competition are corner outfielders and first basemen -- that is, players who play offense-first positions, and some not very well at that. What hurts his candidacy is the fact that the Dodgers have the third-worst record in baseball. I don't believe that team performance should impact MVP votes, but many voters do, and my task in this column is to anticipate the voters' preference. Still, I think it's too early in the season to penalize Kemp for the shortcomings of his teammates.

4. Matt Holliday, LF, Cardinals (2)

Season Stats: .349/.439/.557, 6 HRs, 31 RBIs

Last Three Weeks: .271/.338/.457, 3 HRs, 12 RBIs

Holliday is a better fielder than any of the three outfielders above him on this list, has been more productive at the plate than all but Berkman, and the 10 days Holliday lost to his appendectomy in early April are already pretty insignificant. One could easily argue that he's been the most valuable player in the league, but I suspect that, if the vote were held today, he'd not get as much support as the three men above him. That's because of his deficit in home runs, lack of stolen bases (he has attempted just one and was caught), and the presence of Berkman, who despite being a brutal fielder, is close to Holliday in batting average and ahead of him in all of the other categories listed above. Holliday should be higher on this list, but he also should have finished much higher than 12th in last year's voting.

5. Joey Votto, 1B, Reds (3)

Season Stats: .335/.458/.549, 6 HRs, 28 RBIs

Last Three Weeks: .303/.403/.470, 1 HRs, 12 RBIs

Votto's home run on Sunday was his first since April 27, but as the above numbers show, he produces so much more than longballs at the plate. The major league leader in on-base percentage a year ago, he's leading the non-Bautista world in walks and OBP thus far this year. He's also third on the league in batting average, fourth in slugging, first in runs scored, and has struck out eight fewer times than he has walked.

Honorable Mention

Prince Fielder, 1B, Brewers (HM): Big things were expected from Fielder in his walk year, and he's delivering. He's second in the league in RBIs, total bases, and extra-base hits, and just two behind his teammate Braun's lead in home runs.

Jose Reyes, SS, Mets (N/A): Another young player in his walk year, Reyes is fourth in the NL in VORP thanks to league-leading hits (62) and stolen base (17) totals. He's also first in the NL in triples (6), second in doubles, fourth in total bases, and fifth in extra-base hits, that last despite having hit just one home run this season. He's also leading the league in intentional walks, which says something about the Mets' lineup, but also proves that people have noticed how good Reyes has been.

Carlos Beltran, RF, Mets (N/A): Yet another player in his walk year, Beltran is having a strong comeback season after two years largely lost to a knee injury and the subsequent surgery. If he was still playing a quality centerfield and stealing bases at a high percentage, he'd be a serious contender for this award. Instead, as a rightfielder who hasn't attempted a steal all year, he's been just good enough to get an honorable mention.

Gaby Sanchez, 1B, Marlins (N/A): The surprising Marlins, who are sitting comfortably in the wild card lead right now, and just a game and a half behind the heavily-favored Phillies in the NL East, should have a representative on this list. The 27-year-old Sanchez, who has thus far taken a big step forward from his strong rookie campaign of a year ago, is the best candidate, at least until fellow sophomores Logan Morrison, who missed time with a foot injury, and Mike Stanton, who is still learning the strike zone at age 21, catch him.

Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Rockies (4): Teammate Todd Helton has been more productive on a per-at-bat basis than golden boy Tulowitzki this year, but the 37-year-old Helton has also been limited by his chronic back problems, which have reduced the quality of his fielding and make him a risky bet going forward. The better odds are on Tulowitzki, who, like Adrian Beltre in the AL, derives a great deal of value from his defense and has the counting stats to lure in the voters (11 HRs, 27 RBIs) despite an underwhelming batting average (.250) and on-base percentage (.330).

Off the list: Andre Ethier (HM), Placido Polanco (HM), Albert Pujols (HM)

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