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McCutchen, Trout on top in MVP races as contenders cool off

The dog days of August are upon us, and the candidates for Most Valuable Player in both leagues are starting to show the strain as slumps and injuries rule the day behind the top two men in each league. In the National League, where one candidate just got suspended for the rest of the season due to a positive drug test, it has only served to create more space between those top two men and the rest of the league, while in the American League, there is now more room for starting pitchers.

NOTE: All stats are through Wednesday, August 15. League leaders are in bold, major league leaders in bold italics. The number in parentheses after each player's name reflects his rank on the previous list.

1. Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pirates (1)

Season Stats:.358/.419/.606, 24 HR, 72 RBI, 14 SB

Last Three Weeks: .306/.386//.472, 2 HR, 6 RBI

McCutchen is just 4 for his last 23, but still leads the majors in batting average and the NL in slugging percentage and total bases (257). If the voting were held today, he'd stand a good chance of being the unanimous winner of this award. Seriously, can you think of one reason that McCutchen should not be the MVP right now? I can't.

2. Buster Posey, C, Giants (HM)

Season Stats: .330/.407/.544, 19 HR, 76 RBI

Last Three Weeks: .413/.531/.762, 6 HR, 16 RBI

Posey has been the best hitter in baseball since the All-Star break, hitting .434/.516/.764 with nine home runs and 33 RBIs since the break. He wasn't exactly a scrub during the first-half, hitting .289/.362/.458 with 10 home runs and 43 RBIs. Behind the plate, he's throwing out runners at an average rate and has allowed just one passed ball all year. Add it all up and he has become a legitimate challenger to McCutchen at a time when the other top candidates are either slumping, injured or suspended.

3. Ryan Braun, LF, Brewers (4)

Season Stats: .299/.377/.567, 29 HR, 77 RBI, 19 SB

Last Three Weeks: .203/.253/.304, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 2 SB

In his past 10 games, Braun is just 6 for his last 42 with 14 strikeouts and no walks or home runs. He was given a day off on Wednesday in the hope of breaking his slump.

4. David Wright, 3B, Mets (5)

Season Stats: .321/.412/.529, 16 HR, 75 RBI

Last Three Weeks: .221/.321/.338, 1 HR, 8 RBI

Wright has been slumping for the last four weeks, hitting .207/.302/.326 since July 20 and has taken the collar in exactly half of his 24 starts over that stretch. He looked like he was breaking out of it late last week, but is 0-for-6 with three strikeouts to start the Mets current series in Cincinnati. It is only because of the injuries to Joey Votto and Carlos Ruiz and Melky Cabrera's suspension that he and Braun have each actually moved up a spot on this list.

5. Matt Holliday, LF, Cardinals (HM)

Season Stats: .312/.392/.539, 23 HR, 81 RBI

Last Three Weeks: .276/.337/.592, 7 HR, 18 RBI

Holliday has raised his season OPS in each of the first four months of this season, but is just 4 for his last 27 coming into Thursday's action. Two of those four have been home runs, however, as Holliday's power-surge continues. Holliday hit 14 home runs in his first 389 plate appearances this season (one every 27.8 PA), but has nine more in his last 111 PA (one every 12.3 PA).

Honorable Mention

Carlos Gonzalez, LF, Rockies (NA): If Gonzalez wants us to look past his extreme home/road splits (his OPS is 400 points higher at home this year), he's going to have to avoid doing things like going 0-for a road trip, which is exactly what he just did from August 6 to 12, gong 0-for-16 in Los Angeles and San Francisco. In the four home games surrounding that trip, he went 9-for-15.

Johnny Cueto, SP, Reds (HM): Cueto leads the majors in ERA+ (171) and wins (15), is second in the NL in raw ERA (2.45), and is the only one of the top four men in his league in ERA to have thrown 160 or more innings this season. The National League Cy Young award race has been underwhelming this season, but if any of the contenders deserves MVP consideration, it's Cueto.

Yadier Molina, C, Cardinals (HM): Molina is dealing with some back pain that has led to a minor slump and some games missed. I just hope it doesn't slow his stolen base pace. Molina has now stolen 11 bases in 13 attempts and with two more swipes would have the most by a catcher in a season since then-25-year-old Russell Martin stole 18 in 2008.

Miguel Montero, C, Diamondbacks (NA): Montero has hit .352/.472/.648 with six homers and 25 RBIs since July 15 and thus becomes the sixth National League catcher to have appeared on this list at some point this season, joining Posey, Molina, Carlos Ruiz, A.J. Ellis and Jonathon Lucroy, while Wilin Rosario has made appearances on the Rookie of the Year list. All that and no Brian McCann!

Joey Votto, 1B, Reds (2): Unlike Carlos Ruiz and Matt Kemp, the two other significant MVP contenders who have had their seasons interrupted by injury, Votto, who is on the disabled list following a pair of surgeries on his left knee, still qualifies for the batting title. For that reason, he's still on this list, while the other two are not, but the time he has missed combined with the expectation that he won't return until September has dropped him to the final spot, despite the fact that he still leads the majors in on-base percentage (.465) and OPS (1.069).

Off the list: Carlos Ruiz (3), Melky Cabrera (HM)

1. Mike Trout, CF, Angels (1)

Season Stats:.340/.403/.595, 22 HR, 93 R, 38 SB

Last Three Weeks: .274/.360/.548, 6 HR, 17 RBI, 7 SB

Despite missing nearly all of April, Trout leads the majors in stolen bases and runs scored, leads the AL in batting average and is second in the league in slugging percentage behind the injured David Ortiz. His bat has finally started to cool a bit of late, as he's just 8-for-32 (.250) over his last eight games, but the power surge that he experienced in July continues, with three of those eight hits being home runs. Trout went deep eight times in his first 258 plate appearances this year, a rate of roughly one home run every 32 trips, but has 14 more home runs in his last 179 PA, a rate of roughly one every 13 PA. The latter is a 50-homer pace over a full season of 650 plate appearances.

2. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Tigers (4)

Season Stats: .327/.388/.585, 30 HR, 103 RBI

Last Three Weeks: .321/.391/.603, 6 HR, 21 RBI

Cabrera drove in his 100th run of the season on Tuesday and hit his 30th home run on Wednesday. He has now reached both of those totals in each of the last six seasons and eight of his nine full major league campaigns, missing only the home run total in the exception. Cabrera has compiled nearly half of his 30 home runs and 100 RBIs (14 and 45, respectively) since June 25, hitting .368/.439/.678 over that span, which suggests that he's finally comfortable over at third base.

3. Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees (2)

Season Stats: .311/.372/.551, 25 HR, 68 RBI

Last Three Weeks: .268/.350/.437, 3 HR, 12 RBI

Cano has blown hot and cold over the last three weeks. He went three games without a hit for the first time all season July 28 to 30, followed that by hitting .400/.467/.625 over his next 10 games, but has just one hit in his last four games entering Thursday's action and sat out on Wednesday with a stiff neck.

4. Justin Verlander, SP, Tigers (4)

Season Stats: 12-7, 2.46 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 8.9 K/9, 4.24 K/BB, 7.3 IP/GS, 6 CG, 1 SHO, 170 ERA+

Last Four Starts: 1-2, 2.67 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 10.7 K/9, 4.57 K/BB, 6.8 IP/GS, 1 CG

The defending American League Most Valuable Player leads the league in adjusted ERA+ and innings per start, which means no other pitcher in the league has pitched deeper into games or done a better job of preventing runs (even though Verlander is second in traditional ERA to Jered Weaver's 2.22). There's not much more that you can ask from a starting pitcher, though Verlander is also second in the majors in WHIP (to Weaver), and second in the AL in strikeout-to-walk ratio (to Chris Sale). Verlander is having a season that is almost identical to his MVP-winning campaign of a year ago, but he's unlikely to win the award again because he has far more competition, both from the other hitters on this list, and, perhaps more significantly with regard to his ability to stand out as an MVP candidate, the other pitchers.

5. Josh Hamilton, CF, Rangers (N/A)

Season Stats: .291/.358/.595, 34 HR, 101 RBI

Last Three Weeks: .310/.367/.634, 6 HR, 20 RBI

Hamilton slumped so badly in June and July that he went from leading this list for most of the season to falling off it entirely three weeks ago. However, since coming through with three hits, including a double and a home run, against the Angels on July 30, he has hit .338/.386/.692 with six home runs, including two against the Yankees Wednesday night. Curiously, his turn-around came soon after he made cryptic comments to the press about struggling with his "obedience to God," which he later revealed to be about his struggles quitting chewing tobacco.

Honorable Mention

The American League honorable mentions this week are dominated by starting pitchers. Of course, Awards Watch will take a look at the Cy Young race next week, so I'll be brief here.

Jered Weaver, SP, Angels (NA): Leads the league in wins (15), ERA (2.22), and WHIP (0.92), just a tick behind Verlander in ERA+ (169), but well behind him in innings. Shut out the A's two starts ago.

Felix Hernandez, SP, Mariners (NA): Leads the majors in innings (180) and shutouts (4). Threw a perfect game against the Rays on Wednesday afternoon, his second shutout in his last three turns. Is 9-3 with a 1.56 ERA over his last dozen starts.

Chris Sale, SP, White Sox (HM): Is second in the league in wins (14) and just a tick behind Weaver in ERA+ (168). Leads the league in strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.26). Struck out 18 men against no walks in his last two starts.

David Price, SP, Rays (HM): Tied with Weaver for league lead in wins, is 6-0 with a 1.68 ERA over his last nine starts, struck out 44 men in 35 1/3 innings in July.

Austin Jackson, CF, Tigers: Quick, which of the following slash lines is Prince Fielder's and which is Austin Jackson's?

a) .309/.401/.506

b) .310/.395/.508

Fielder is coming on strong, hitting .367/.484/.653 in July, but a slick-fielding center fielder who can hit like Prince Fielder is a better MVP candidate than Fielder himself.

(answer: b)

Off the list: Edwin Encarnacion (5), Mark Trumbo (HM), Josh Willingham (HM), David Ortiz (HM)

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