Matt Kemp: There have been two bright spots for the Dodgers this season, who are in the middle of a financial rut and baseball abyss. One of those bright spots is Matt Kemp (the other is in the Cy Young race). Kemp is having a Willie Mays-ian season (yes, I compared him to the Say Hey Kid), combining a rare mix of elite fielding, speed on the base paths, hitting for a high average and power while driving in runs on a terrible team.
Kemp is in the top four of all three Triple Crown stats: 4th in average (.320), 2nd in home runs (31) and 2nd in RBIs (102). He is only one homer and RBI behind the NL leader but sits .016 behind the injured Jose Reyes. If Kemp does go on one more hitting tear, a Triple Crown is a possibility. Kemp is one of a very small handful of players in baseball who are threats to do that every season and the fact he’s doing that this year makes him a top candidate for MVP.
Prince Fielder: Prince Fielder is right up there with Kemp statistically. Hitting .293 with 29 homers and 102 RBIs, Fielder is enjoying another one of the best seasons he’s compiled as a Milwaukee Brewer. Kemp has the advantage on Fielder for playing a more skilled position but Fielder has an advantage in another area that could be more important.
When voters look at Fielder, they will see that he’s raking on a team with the third best record in the NL, putting the Brewers in the position for the #2 seed in the post season. By being a “valuable” asset to one of the best teams in the National League, Fielder has made himself a top MVP candidate
Sleepers: Shane Victorino (Philadelphia), Ryan Braun (Milwaukee)
Adrian Gonzalez: Of course the AL MVP race would be between the game’s most heated rivalry. Adrian Gonzalez’s presence on the Red Sox has been MVP-worthy. Hitting .341 with 35 doubles, 23 homers and 103 RBIs, Gonzalez has been that piece Boston needs to stay ahead of New York in the AL East
People argue for center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and though he’s having a fantastic season, his numbers aren’t that of Gonzalez’s. If Boston holds onto the division lead and boasts the top seed in the AL, people will identify that win with Gonzalez putting the team on his shoulders, even during their down stretches.
Curtis Granderson: The type of season Curtis Granderson is having for the rival New York Yankees is nothing short of incredible. Granderson is toe-to-toe with Gonzalez statistically (except average), and that’s saying something being a completely different player. Granderson is hitting .273 with a Major League leading 38 homers and 107 RBIs. But what Granderson has also done is lead the league in runs scored with 123 and triples with 10 while stealing 24 bases.
People will factor in the fact Granderson plays for the Yankees and playing in a stadium that pretty much resembles the one in Williamsport, PA. But that is not the cause for his power surge. Granderson’s numbers are almost identical on the road and at home, proving he is absolutely killing the ball no matter where he plays. And like Gonzalez, who finishes on top in the division will get an advantage in swaying the voters’ decision.
Sleepers: Jacoby Ellsbury (Boston), Justin Verlander (Detroit)
NL Cy Young
Roy Halladay: The reigning Cy Young award winner hasn’t had to be perfect this season to launch him over the top, but he’s still been the best pitcher on a team filled with Cy Young contenders. Halladay is 16-5 with a 2.47 ERA. He’s second in the NL with 196.2 innings pitched, 4th with 191 strike outs, 1st with seven complete games (no shutouts) and first by almost three whole strike outs in K/BB ratio with a 7.64.
What makes Halladay’s season so impressive is he has maintained a consistency throughout. But the most telling stat: his performance at Citizens Bank Park has been better than it is on the road. Why is that significant? Because CBP is a bandbox, much like Yankee Stadium – a nightmare for pitchers. But Doc is 8-2 with a 2.32 ERA and a remarkable 12.75 K/BB ratio.
Clayton Kershaw: Kershaw is statistically having the most impressive season by a NL pitcher this year. His numbers are slightly better than Halladay’s (though Doc has one fewer start which may change things). But I give Kershaw the benefit of the doubt because it’s so much harder to win as a pitcher and dominate on a team that just isn’t winning. Kershaw is 16-5, which may not be like Steve Carlton winning 27 games when the Phillies managed only 56 wins in 1972 but is still pretty impressive.
Kershaw is 2nd in the Majors with a 2.45 ERA (Cincy’s Johny Cueto is .40 lower but has seven fewer starts). He also has a league leading 198.2 innings pitched, 212 strike outs and the second best WHIP in the majors at 1.02 (Cole Hamels is an incredible 0.97). But with a start in hand, Halladay could equal those numbers with another Doc-like outing. But for now, Kershaw has seemingly been an equally dominant pitcher.
Sleepers: Cole Hamels (Philadelphia), Cliff Lee (Philadelphia)
AL Cy Young
Justin Verlander: There honestly should be no question to this. Justin Verlander is your 2011 AL Cy Young award winner and it shouldn’t even be a debate. Verlander is 20-5 and is the first pitcher to reach 20 wins before September since Curt Schilling a decade ago. But on top of Verlander’s record, he’s posting a 2.38 ERA, 2nd only to Jared Weaver of the Angels.
But it’s the rest of Verlander’s numbers that impress. With a league best 215 2/3 innings, 218 strike outs and 0.90 WHIP, Verlander has been baseball’s most dominant pitcher. Oh, and he also has a no-hitter under his belt.
C.C. Sabathia: Sabathia is the front-runner for best of the rest. Sabathia has single-handedly carried the Yankees pitching, whose rotation dramatically drops off from the ace to the #2 starter. Sabathia is enjoying another great season, posting an 18-7 record with a 2.99 ERA.
It’s another typical season for Sabathia, who has carried the Yankees in each of his last three seasons in blue pinstripes. If New York is able to overcome the Red Sox in the division, you can say it happened on the bat of Granderson and the arm of Sabathia.
Sleepers: Felix Hernandez (Seattle), Jared Weaver (Los Angeles)