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Rounding Third: The only race worth watching in National League
By Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - If you are expecting a wild finish in the National League playoff races, sadly you are going to be out of luck.
In fact you can list five of the six playoff teams now, and to be honest, we are probably another Arizona loss in Cincinnati away from having virtually nothing to root for in September.
Maybe you'll be able to get excited about who wins the NL Central, but all three teams will likely be in the postseason anyway.
No, the only race to keep an eye on as we fade to the season's final month will be who wins the NL MVP. And this year there are no shortage of candidates, and it's an award that's anyone's for the taking.
Of course any MVP discussion in the National League is going to start with someone on the Los Angeles Dodgers. To nobody's surprise baseball's hottest team has a handful of candidates in outfielder Yasiel Puig, shortstop Hanley Ramirez and even lefty Clayton Kershaw.
Puig has taken the baseball world by storm in the short time he's been with the Dodgers. Is Puig solely responsible for the fact that the Dodgers have won 43 of their last 53 games? No of course not, but he is hitting .352 with 12 home runs, 28 RBI, 48 runs scored and seven stolen bases in his 68 games.
Not to mention that cannon of an arm he has. Although, he's also cost the Dodgers a bit by showing off
Oh yea, the Dodgers were 8 1/2 games behind in the National League West and seemingly days away from firing manager Don Mattingly when Puig made his debut on June 3. They now sit 7 1/2 in front and well on their way to the postseason.
Puig may get most of the headlines in L.A., but Ramirez has probably been the more consistent player day-in and day-out.
The Dodgers' shortstop has resembled the player he was early in his career with the Marlins, hitting at a .346 clip with 12 home runs, 39 RBI and 41 runs scored. Since he returned from the disabled list on June 4, he leads the NL with a .607 slugging percentage.
What came first the chicken or the egg?
You'll likely find more people in the Puig camp simply because of the hype - good and bad - associated with him. But you'd be hard pressed to find someone more valuable to the Dodgers than Ramirez.
Well, that is unless you are going to include Kershaw in this discussion. And since Justin Verlander won the AL MVP Award just two years ago, why not?
Now to me, you have to have an out of control year to even be considered for an MVP if you are a pitcher, let alone a starter, who appears in at most 30 games.
Kershaw's 12 wins won't excite you, but if you are still judging pitchers based on win totals the train is rolling right past you. The former Cy Young Award winner is putting up historic numbers, as he leads the majors in ERA (1.80), WHIP (0.85) and opponents batting average (.182).
And he's getting hot at the right time. He's 7-2 in his last 10 starts and has allowed more than two runs in just one of those outings.
Truth be told Kershaw probably won't be in the mix to win the award, but he will do enough to take votes away from the other two, who will cancel each other out.
In other words, barring an incredible stretch run there won't be a Dodger winning an MVP.
So, if it's not going to be someone from Los Angeles, then who?
How about Pittsburgh outfielder Andrew McCutchen?
Is there going to be a better story heading into the playoffs this year than the Pirates? And yes there will be postseason baseball in Pittsburgh for the first time since 1992 this year.
If you want to put a Pirates' name on your ballot, the only one you will write down is McCutchen, who has now become a full-fledged superstar and one that the world will be introduced to this October.
Actually if you can name three other players on the Pirates, more power to you. But guess what? They own the top spot in the NL Central and have the second best record in baseball behind the Atlanta Braves.
And McCutchen happens to be a huge reason why.
Since July 1, McCutchen ranks second among all National League players in batting average (.360), slugging percentage (.596), on-base percentage (.450) and total bases (96).
One player who can spoil the MVP party, as well as make the month of September a little more interesting is Arizona first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.
Goldschmidt put himself into this discussion with a tremendous first half, but has severely dropped off, as he is hitting just .245 since the All-Star break.
It hasn't helped his chances any that Arizona has fallen off in the playoff races. Depending on what happens here in Cincinnati over the next few days, the dirt may be spread over the D'Backs' casket in the coming days.
Now watch St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina go berserk from here on out and lead the Cardinals to a divisional crown. He leads the NL in hitting and is the best defensive backstop in the game. Had he not gotten hurt a few weeks back, Molina may have been the front runner.
And he very well may be three weeks from now.
That's the point. This race is wide open.
Perhaps the real MVP has yet to reveal himself.
Get ready for a wild finish ... and the only thing worth watching in the National League over the final month and a half.
08/21 14:44:40 ET
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