Posted: Thursday July 5, 2012 4:50PM ; Updated: Thursday July 5, 2012 4:50PM
Cliff Corcoran
Cliff Corcoran>MLB AWARDS WATCH

Cano, McCutchen making big push in MVP races (cont.)

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National League

Andrew McCutchen
Andrew McCutchen is a major reaon the surprising Pirates have moved into first place.
AP

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

Season Stats: .350/.469/.628, 14 HR, 47 RBI

Last Three Weeks: .311/.408/.525, 2 HR, 3 RBI

Votto gave the Reds and baseball fans everywhere a scare when he missed the first two games of July with a knee injury, but he returned to action on Tuesday and has gone 3-for-8 with a double in two games since. Votto now has 34 doubles on the season. He led the NL last year with 40. Miguel Cabrera led the majors with 48. The single-season record is 67, and no one has reached 60 since 1936. Todd Helton came the closest, with 59 in 2000.

2. Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pirates (HM)

Season Stats: .360/.412/.610, 16 HR, 54 RBI, 14 SB

Last Three Weeks: .459/.500/.784, 5 HR, 17 RBI

I don't believe that team performance should be a factor in the MVP voting. It is an individual award and only individual performance should matter. It's not the player's fault if his 24 teammates don't make up a winning team even with his contributions, and his contributions aren't the only reason his team wins when it does. That said, it's hard to separate McCutchen's success from the Pirates' right now. While McCutchen has been on the crazy run captured in that Last Three Weeks line above, the Pirates have gone 13-6 (with one of those losses occurring in the only game McCutchen missed) and taken over the lead in the NL Central.

That's not a coincidence, but it's not all to McCutchen's credit, either. Pedro Alvarez has hit .373/.471/.797 over the same period. Garret Jones has hit .321/.377/.643. Leftfielder Drew Sutton has hit .387/.424/.677 in nine games since being called up. In the last three weeks James McDonald has gone 3-1 and A.J. Burnett has gone 3-0, each with three quality starts in four turns. Success in baseball has many fathers. McCutchen is here not because the Pirates are winning, and not because he is indeed playing a large role in that, he's here because he's been one of the best players in baseball this season, period.

3. David Wright, 3B, Mets (2)

Season Stats: .350/.441/.559, 10 HR, 55 RBI

Last Three Weeks: .324/.377/.485, 2 HR, 18 RBI

I haven't listed Wright's eight stolen bases above because he has been caught seven times. That's the only negative aspect of an all-around fantastic season from Wright, who has managed to cool off from his white-hot start without actually slumping.

4. Carlos Ruiz, C, Phillies (5)

Season Stats: .357/.419/.598, 13 HR, 46 RBI

Last Three Weeks: .345/.415/.655, 5 HR, 11 RBI

To put the 33-year-old Ruiz's season in context, his Phillies have played 83 games and he has already broken his previous career high in home runs by three, he is eight shy of his career high in RBIs, he is 30 hits shy of his previous career high in that category (116) and he is 27 shy of his previous career high in total bases (166). He has also set a career high in times hit by pitch with a league-leading 12, yet his 11 unintentional walks are barely more than a fourth of his previous high in that department.

5. R.A. Dickey, SP, Mets (4)

Season Stats: 12-1, 2.15 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 9.2 K/9, 4.64 K/BB, 7.1 IP/GS, 3 CG, 2 SHO

Last Four Starts: 3-0, 1.41 ERA, 0.50 WHIP, 10.7 K/9, 6.33 K/BB, 8.0 IP/GS, 2 CG, 1 SHO

Dickey, who will start against the Phillies on Thursday, is the biggest surprise of the season to this point and has been far and away the best pitcher, perhaps even the best player, in baseball since mid-May. Over his last eight starts, he has gone 7-0 with a 0.86 ERA and his opponents have hit just .139/.185/.192 in 223 plate appearances. By way of comparison, the average National League pitcher has hit .132/.170/.166 this year and Dickey himself is hitting .176/.200/.176. In other words, Dickey has been making every opposing hitter look like a pitcher lately.

Honorable Mention

Ryan Braun, LF, Brewers (HM): Braun hit seven home runs over the last three weeks to take over the NL lead in that category with 23. He edges out fellow power-and-speed threat Carlos Gonzalez on this list by putting up similar numbers in slightly less favorable hitting environment.

Carlos Gonzalez, LF, Rockies (HM): Gonzalez has stolen 10 bases in 11 attempts and leads the NL in total bases (179) and runs scored (59). He hit .412 over the last three weeks to raise his average to .340, but most of his production over that span came via singles hitting.

Carlos Beltran, RF, Cardinals (HM): A drop in power over the last three weeks (just one home run and a mere .092 isolated slugging) has dropped Beltran behind Braun and Gonzalez on this list. He leads the NL in RBIs with 63, but has benefitted from hitting with a lot of runners on base as part of the lineup with the best on-base percentage in the NL.

Yadier Molina, C, Cardinals (N/A): This is Molina's second appearance on this list this year. He was third on May 3 and has been just beyond the top 10 ever since. His reappearance this week is more indicative of a slight shift in the balance of the borderline candidates than it is of a major surge by Molina or decline by his competitors. Molina's next home run and next stolen base will each tie his previous career high (14 and nine, respectively). He has stolen his eight bases in nine attempts.

Matt Cain, SP, Giants (3): Cain's third-place ranking last time around came in the immediate wake of his perfect game. He has turned in just one quality start in three tries since but, like Verlander, his combination of effectiveness and innings-eating (he leads the NL in innings per start) demands his inclusion on this list.

Off the list: Melky Cabrera (HM)

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