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First-third awards - NL MVP

Pujols is making a strong case for back-to-back awards.


We'll use VORP to come up with a list of candidates and go from there. Position players only. I think Dan Haren should figure into the mix for the bottom half of the ballot, but the rest of the top 10 will be hitters.

1. Albert Pujols - 37.2
2. Raul Ibanez - 33.4
3. Carlos Beltran - 30.0
4. Hanley Ramirez - 27.9
5. Adrian Gonzalez - 26.5
6. Chase Utley - 26.1
7. Miguel Tejada - 24.7
8. Ryan Zimmerman - 23.4
9. Justin Upton - 23.1
10. Brad Hawpe - 22.4
11. Orlando Hudson - 21.3
12. Ryan Braun - 21.2
13. David Wright - 20.9

That's everyone over 20.0.

Moving on to OPS:

1. Albert Pujols - 1168 in 53 G
2. Raul Ibanez - 1091 in 52 G
3. Adrian Gonzalez - 1075 in 53 G
4. Brad Hawpe - 1051 in 46 G
5. Carlos Beltran - 1022 in 47 G
6. Justin Upton - 1000 in 50 G
7. Chase Utley - 998 in 50 G
8. Prince Fielder - 979 in 54 G
9. Ryan Braun - 964 in 52 G
10. Hanley Ramirez - 962 in 51 G

Playing time isn't as much of an issue here as it was in the AL, where it was tough to figure out where to put Joe Mauer and Jason Bartlett. The only player in the NL to perform like an MVP candidate over 30-40 games is Joey Votto, who had a 1091 OPS in 38 games before landing on the DL.

Finally, the RBI list, since that's what the real voters will be mostly concerned about:

1. Raul Ibanez - 53
2. Prince Fielder - 52
3. Albert Pujols - 48
4. Ryan Howard - 46
5. Adrian Gonzalez - 43
6. Adam Dunn - 42
7. Brad Hawpe - 41
8. James Loney - 41
9. Brandon Phillips - 40
10. Dan Uggla - 39

I see five legitimate candidates: Pujols, Ibanez, Beltran, Gonzalez and Utley. Fielder isn't hitting any better than the top two first baseman and he's a weaker defender. As a subpar shortstop, Hanley is rather overrated by VORP. Also, he hasn't been as much of a force on the basepaths as usual, and even though he's hitting .400 with RISP, he has just 25 RBI while batting third. That knocks him down to sixth.

Of the top five, two are quality defenders at key positions, two are quality defenders at first base and one is a below average defender in left field. Beltran's candidacy takes a hit because he's missed five of the Mets' 52 games.

As outstanding as Ibanez has been, I don't see a reason to go away from Pujols, last year's MVP. He has the OPS lead, he's a positive in the field and on the basepaths and he's hitting .341 with RISP. Utley also contributes in more ways than Ibanez.

What Gonzalez has gone is truly remarkable -- he's on pace for more than 60 homers while playing half of his games at Petco Park -- but he doesn't have the same kind of average as the other candidates and his OBP is being inflated by teams working around him with RISP. It's not his fault that the Padres can't protect him, but it has made him less valuable. He's hit just .231 with RISP.

First-third NL MVP

1. Pujols
2. Utley
3. Ibanez
4. Gonzalez
5. Beltran
6. Ramirez
7. Haren
8. Fielder
9. Hudson
10. Mike Cameron