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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