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Awards Watch: National League MVP race is down to two players

Two men stand head and shoulders above their peers in the NL MVP race, while the Mets' Jacob deGrom may have locked up the NL ROY award.

UPDATE: Thursday night, within hours of this list being published, the Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton was hit flush in the left cheek by a stray 88 mph fastball from the Brewers' Mike Fiers. Stanton suffered multiple facial fractures, dental damage and a laceration that required stitches — injuries that will likely end his season, given that there are just 17 games remaining. That will prevent Stanton from adding to his numbers below, and while it won't necessarily cost him the MVP award (even if his season is over, Stanton will miss less time than the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw did in April), it does improve Kershaw's chances of surpassing Stanton over the final two and a half weeks.

This list is based on my opinion of who would deserve the award if the season ended on the day of its publication, so Stanton's injury doesn't change these rankings. I will revisit this race two more times before the season ends, and will re-examine the impact of Stanton's injury on this race on those occasions.

WATCH: Stanton hit in face with pitch, yet ump says it's a strike

The second week of Awards Watch's lightning round — in which I examine all three major player awards in both leagues — is here, and we have some new names joining the fray and a few shakeups in a handful of races.

Note: All stats are through Wednesday, Sept. 10. League leaders are in bold, major league leaders in bold and italics. Rookies are players who, prior to the current season, had fewer than 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the majors or spent fewer than 45 days on the active roster prior to rosters expanding on Sept. 1. The number in parentheses after a player's name reflects his rank on the previous list.

Most Valuable Player

American League

1. Mike Trout, CF, Angels (1)

Season Stats: .286/.373/.551, 32 HR, 103 RBI, 101 R, 14 SB (88 percent), 7 3B

Does Josh Hamilton's shoulder injury hurt Angels' postseason chances?

Trout hit .310/.444/.552 over the last week and now leads the AL in runs and RBIs and the majors in total bases with 306. That firms up his lead in this race a bit. Truth be told, the player whom he suffers most in comparison to is himself. If Trout's current slash stats, OPS+, stolen base and strikeout totals weren't all career-worsts for the 22-year-old superstar — in some cases by a significant margin — his candidacy wouldn't seem nearly as underwhelming as it does. It's almost as if he should have already won this award once or twice.

2. Felix Hernandez, RHP, Mariners (2)

Season Stats: 14-5, 217 K, 2.12 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 9.2 K/9, 5.29 K/BB, 7.1 IP/GS, 176 ERA+

Hernandez's recent dip -- he posted a 5.09 ERA in the second half of August -- and Trout's uptick have taken some of the edge off this race. But Hernandez still has plenty of distance between himself and the rest of the field, especially after allowing just one run over 14 innings in his two most recent starts. That's reminiscent of his dominance for most of the season, when he posted a streak of 16 straight games with at least seven innings pitched and no more than two runs allowed from mid-May to mid-August. 

3. Michael Brantley, LF, Indians

Season Stats: .314/.373/.493, 18 HR, 89 RBI, 85 R, 19 SB (95%), 39 2B

The group of players listed behind Trout and Hernandez is so tightly packed that the identity of this third man seems to change almost daily. At this moment, I'm going with Brantley, who hit .391/.440/.478 over the last week with a couple of stolen bases and has set, or is in the process of setting, career highs in nearly every positive offensive category.

Out of the top three:Jose Abreu

CORCORAN: These teams could be September spoilers in playoff race

National League

1. Giancarlo Stanton, RF, Marlins (1)

Season Stats: .287/.395/.554, 37 HR, 105 RBI, 89 RBI, 13 SB (93%)

2. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers (3)

Season Stats: 18-3, 210 K, 1.67 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 10.7 K/9, 7.78 K/BB, 7.4 IP/GS, 6 CG, 2 SHO, 216 ERA+

The case of the disappearing slugger: Where did MLB's power go?

This is a two-man race at this point, and it's one Stanton is most likely going to win. For many of the voters, that is because Kershaw is a pitcher. Despite the explicit reminder in the MVP instructions that pitchers are eligible for the award, many voters (of which I am not one) are reluctant to give upper-ballot votes to them. The two most common arguments are, "They only play every five days" and "They have their own award."

These rankings reflect my valuations, not predictions of who will win, yet I still have Stanton on top. That's not because Kershaw is a pitcher, but in large part because he missed April. The second criteria on the MVP ballot is "number of games played," which means attendance counts. I favored Miguel Cabrera for the 2010 AL MVP after Josh Hamilton missed most of September due to injury (though Hamilton ultimately won), and I favor Stanton here largely for the same reason. Kershaw will likely finish right around 200 innings this season, but no starting pitcher has ever won an MVP award for a season in which he has thrown fewer than 250 innings. As great as Kershaw has been this season, given the quality of Stanton's performance, that shouldn't change.

3. Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pirates (2)

Season Stats: .311/.403/.539, 23 HR, 75 RBI, 77 R, 17 SB (89%)

You want power and speed? How about a guy who hits a ball 400-plus feet and circles the bases in 15 seconds?

Andrew McCutchen swinging hot bat, keeping Pirates close in NL Central

Oh, he also leads the league in on-base percentage and OPS+, is second in unadjusted OPS, third in slugging (three points behind Paul Goldschmidt, who hasn't played since Aug. 1), and is a well-regarded defensive centerfielder. He also has just about every intangible you could ask for from an MVP candidate, most of which I consider irrelevant here, but none of which hurt his case in the eyes of many voters. He may not win his second straight NL MVP award, but McCutchen has my vote to be the post-Derek Jeter face of baseball.


Cy Young

American League

1. Felix Hernandez, RHP, Mariners (1)

Season Stats: 14-5, 217 K, 2.12 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 9.2 K/9, 5.29 K/BB, 7.1 IP/GS, 176 ERA+

2. Chris Sale, LHP, White Sox (2)

Season Stats: 11-3, 183 K, 2.09 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 10.6 K/9, 5.72 K/BB, 6.7 IP/GS, 2 CG, 186 ERA+

Sale has actually out-pitched Hernandez on a per-start basis, but he has made seven fewer starts, meaning this race isn't nearly as close as the above numbers might suggest.

3. Corey Kluber, RHP, Indians

Season Stats: 14-9, 223 K, 2.47 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 9.8 K/9, 4.85 K/BB, 6.8 IP/GS, 3 CG, 1 SHO, 150 ERA+

A week ago, Kluber was practically in a dead-heat with Jon Lester, but I had him just off the list. This week, the Cleveland ace leapfrogs Lester back onto the list after a dominant complete game against the White Sox in which he allowed just one unearned run, struck out eight and walked no one. For his part, Lester held those same White Sox to two runs, both earned, over eight innings, also striking out eight, but walking two and hitting a batter. Things are that close on this part of the list, but it's moot since Hernandez is going to win the award.

Out of top three: Jon Lester

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National League

1. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers (1)

Season Stats: 18-3, 210 K, 1.67 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 10.7 K/9, 7.78 K/BB, 7.4 IP/GS, 6 CG, 2 SHO, 216 ERA+

Sandy Koufax's mid-1960s peak was the greatest confluence of pitcher ballpark, and run-scoring environment in the Liveball Era, but Koufax never posted an ERA below 1.70, a WHIP below 0.85, a strikeout rate above 10.5 or a strikeout-to-walk ratio above 5.40. Kershaw has done all of those things to this point in the season.

For Yankees, benching Derek Jeter would hurt more than help

Then again, he has only thrown 53 percent as many innings as Koufax did in 1965. That's not to paint Kershaw as a pitcher lacking in endurance: He has completed at least seven innings in each of his last 16 starts and gone at least eight in each of his last six. He has averaged more than eight innings per start over those last 16 starts (all of them quality), and 13 of his 24 starts on the season have lasted eight or more innings. Only David Price has gone as deep into games as often this season.

2. Johnny Cueto, RHP, Reds (2)

Season Stats: 17-8, 213 K, 2.23 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 9.0 K/9, 3.67 K/BB, 7.1 IP/GS, 4 CG, 2 SHO, 162 ERA+

If not for Kershaw...

3. Adam Wainwright, RHP, Cardinals (3)

Season Stats: 17-9, 156 K, 2.62 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 6.9 K/9, 3.32 K/BB, 7.0 IP/GS, 4 CG, 2 SHO, 141 ERA+

These three pitchers are pretty well stuck in their spots at this point. No one else is even all that close to Wainwright. There's still a little more than two weeks left in the season, but I'd be surprised to see a different top-three or a different order on the final ballots.


Rookie of the Year

American League

1. Jose Abreu, 1B, White Sox (1)

Season Stats: .317/.377/.589, 33 HR, 99 RBI, 71 R

Abreu is just 3-for-20 with one extra-base hit and no home runs since his 14-game hitting streak ended last weekend. That and the fact that he has made nine of his last 10 starts at designated hitter allowed Michael Brantley to pass him for third place in the AL MVP chase (see above), but no one is going to pass him for Rookie of the Year. This race is over.

2. Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, Yankees (2)

Season Stats: 12-4, 135 K, 2.51 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 9.4 K/9, 7.11 K/BB, 7.2 IP/GS, 3 CG, 1 SHO, 155 ERA+

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We may not have seen the last of Masahiro Tanaka this season. He is scheduled to start an instructional league game in Tampa on Monday and could very well make another start in the majors before the season is over. Both Tanaka and the Yankees see a return to action this season as an important indicator that he will be able to avoid Tommy John surgery and have something close to a normal offseason. They are eyeing next weekend, the penultimate one of the season, as a target for his return, which would give Tanaka time to make two more starts if all goes well.

3. Collin McHugh, RHP, Astros

Season Stats: 9-9, 144 K, 2.79 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, 3.60 K/BB, 6.2 IP/GS, 141 ERA+

Dellin Betances just keeps striking guys out and lowering his ERA, which is now a mere 1.39. However, McHugh has thrown 68 percent more innings (57 2/3 more to be exact) and is on the verge of passing the idle Tanaka (who has thrown 12 2/3 fewer innings than McHugh in five fewer starts) for second place on this list.

The 27-year-old McHugh previously appeared in the majors for the Mets and Rockies and was selected off waivers by Houston in December, but he retained his rookie status coming into the season and has been a revelation for the Astros since joining their rotation in late April. He hasn't allowed more than two runs in any of his last eight starts, going 5-0 (for the Astros!) with a 1.69 ERA over that span. In his last two starts, he held the Angels and Mariners, two teams in playoff position, to two runs over 15 2/3 innings, striking out 12 and walking no one. In four starts this season against the Angels, the team with the best offense in baseball, McHugh has posted a 1.90 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP.

Off the list: Dellin Betances

National League

1. Jacob deGrom, RHP, Mets (1)

Season Stats: 8-6, 121 K, 2.62 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, 3.10 K/BB, 6.4 IP/GS, 133 ERA+

deGrom is starting to run away with this award. He hasn't allowed an earned run in any of his last three starts, surrendering just two unearned tallies in 21 innings over that span. In his lone start from the last week, he held the Rockies scoreless for eight innings on three hits, striking out nine and not walking a batter. Eleven of his last 13 starts have been quality, and he has gone 8-2 with a 1.77 ERA and more than a strikeout per innings over that span. In a race desperate for a breakout performance, deGrom is finally providing one.

2. Kyle Hendricks, RHP, Cubs (3)

Season Stats: 6-2, 2.38 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 5.2 K/9, 2.79 K/BB, 6.2 IP/GS, TK ERA+

Fighting for NL West title, Dodgers need Puig to snap long slump

Hendricks has made just 11 starts in the majors this season; his last, on Wednesday night, was among his worst. However, when giving up four runs in 5 2/3 IP with a solid 5/2 strikeout-to-walk ratio counts among your worst starts, you're doing pretty well, particularly for a rookie. Hendricks slips past Billy Hamilton due more to Hamilton's performance than his own.

3. Billy Hamilton, CF, Reds (2)

Season Stats: .260/.298/.369, 6 HR, 46 RBI, 72 R, 55 SB (72 percent), 7 3B

Hamilton, who went 2-for-21 without a stolen base over the last week and has started just five of the Reds' last seven games, is in legitimate danger of falling off this list entirely despite being the only NL rookie with enough at-bats to quality for the batting title. Consider this comparison to Cardinals rookie second baseman Kolten Wong. If we factor base stealing into the respective batting lines of Hamilton and Wong (by adding stolen bases to total bases, recalculating slugging percentage, subtracting times caught stealing from times on base and recalculating on-base percentage), we get these lines for the two rookies:

Wong: .255/.289/.425 (.714 OPS)

Hamilton: .260/.271/.422 (.693 OPS)

From that alone, it's clear that Wong has out-played Hamilton on a per-game basis this season, and the gap widens when you consider that Hamilton plays in a far more hitter-friendly ballpark. Hamilton stays ahead of Wong this week, however, by virtue of the quality of Hamilton's play in centerfield and the amount of time he has accumulated, with 125 starts to Wong's 89 starts of good but lesser play at second base. However, that advantage could be overwhelmed if the gap between their offensive performances widens any further.