The MVP Race Heats Up

It'd be safe to say that no one saw this kind of MVP race coming for the 2012 season. In the American League, a player who smashed rookie records despite missing the first 20 games of the season was a lock for the MVP, before someone threatened to become the first Triple Crown player since 1967. And what about in the National League? Well, the two contenders are a 25-year-old who had his leg reconstructed a year ago and a player on a team who hasn't had a winning record in 19 years. Not your average race.

The American League MVP race has taken an unexpected twist. Mike Trout had emerged as the runaway favorite for a while after Josh Hamilton fell into a slump, but now things aren't looking so certain. With a rookie season like this, Mike Trout could become an all-time great, but he's no longer a lock for MVP. Miguel Cabrera is having a career season and deserves serious consideration for MVP. Stellar performances from Robinson Cano, Adrian Beltre, and Josh Hamilton have put them all back in the talk as dark horse candidates, but the real race is between Miggy and Trout. Mike Trout is putting up an historic rookie season; he has a 10.3 wins-above-replacement (four more than second place Robinson Cano), a record for a player his age in the modern era. But can you really not give the MVP to a Triple Crown winner, or someone a handful of home runs from it? Players have been chasing it since Yastrzemski did it in 1967, but the first player to achieve it isn't even regarded as the MVP? It all seems a bit nuts. So who truly deserves it?

It pains me to say it, as Mike Trout is my favorite player in baseball (not on the Red Sox), but Miggy deserves it. The Triple Crown is so impressive that at this point, he's the more deserving candidate. He's played 20 more games than Trout, and has put up identical or better numbers in every category. He clearly doesn't have the base-stealing ability of Trout (46 steals on 50 attempts) but he's struck out 40 fewer times. There's still time in the season for Trout to turn it around, but at this point, Miggy is the deserving champ.

In the National League, there's an even more cluttered race. Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey, Ryan Braun, David Wright, and even Matt Holiday are all viable candidates for MVP. Andrew McCutchen was looking like the runaway favorite for a while, but he and the Bucs have hit a heavy slump. The Pirates have somehow managed to drop 22 of their last 31 games while McCutchen's batting average and OPS have plummeted. The Pirates, who looked like they were heading for their first playoff appearance since 1992, are only two games above .500. On the other hand, Buster Posey's bewildering second half has led the Giants to a commanding NL West lead. He's hit .388 since the All-Star Game, an incredible pace. Ryan Braun is posting numbers very similar to last his 2011 MVP season but the questions about PED's puts a big onus on his campaign. David Wright and Matt Holiday have had very impressive seasons and could be dark horse candidates. So who really deserves to win?

Well, it really depends on how the season ends. At this point, it's a complete toss up. Pittsburgh is only three games behind for the second wild card spot. If they manage to reverse the slump and slip into the playoffs, I think McCutchen is the clear winner. There's no way the Pirates could have turned around their abysmal history if McCutchen hasn't had such an amazing season, with or without his late season slump. Even if the Pirates don't make the playoffs, but McCutchen turns around his slump to put them in position to compete, I'd argue he's the rightful MVP. McCutchen is the face, leader and unquestioned best player on his team. Posey has the luck of playing for a team with phenomenal pitching defense, and an offense that manages to get it done. But if Posey's upward trend and McCutchen's downward trend continue, we'd have no choice but to give it to Posey.

To me, this is one of the most exciting MVP races and overall MLB seasons I've experienced. Mike Trout has emerged as the future face of baseball (MVP or not), the National have finally grown into the playoff team they were destined to be, and the NL MVP race is dominated by two players ages 25 or under. To paraphrase Ernie Banks, it's a good year for baseball -- let's hope it becomes two.