Tag:Justin Upton
Posted on: October 2, 2011 2:02 pm
 

NLDS Game 2 preview: Brewers can take control



By C. Trent Rosecrans

Diamondbacks at Brewers, 5:07 p.m. ET, Miller Park, TBS

Diamondbacks Brewers
No. Name Pos No. Name Pos
1 Willie Bloomquist SS 1 Corey Hart RF
2 Aaron Hill 2B 2 Nyjer Morgan CF
3 Justin Upton RF 3 Ryan Braun LF
4 Miguel Montero C 4 Prince Fielder 1B
5 Paul Goldschmidt 1B 5 Rickie Weeks 2B
6 Chris Young CF 6 Jerry Hairston Jr. 3B
7 Ryan Roberts 3B 7 Yuniesky Betancourt SS
8 Gerardo Parra LF 8 Jonathan Lucroy C
9 Daniel Hudson RHP 9 Zack Greinke RHP

PITCHING MATCHUPS

Hudson vs. Brewers: In Hudson's only start against the Brewers this season, he allowed six runs (five earned) in just four innings, while giving up eight hits. Both Hart and Shaun Marcum took him deep in the game at Miller Park on July 4, but Arizona came back to beat the Brewers that day. Every Brewer starter who has faced Hudson has at least a hit against him. Hudson's never faced Braun. 

Greinke vs. Diamondbacks: Greinke earned the loss in his only start against the Diamondbacks this season, but he pitched well enough to win. On July 21 at Chase Field, Greinke allowed just five hits and two runs in seven innings, but his offense was shutout. Montero and Upton touched him up for solo homers in the loss. Upton is 3 for 7 in his career against Greinke, with a double and a homer. 

NOTES

Full Playoff Coverage
  • The Brewers have announced the roof at Miller Park will be closed for today's game. Weather.com says it will be 62 degrees at first pitch. The roof was closed for Game 1, but it was about 10 degrees cooler. The Brewers say the shadows are not as bad when the roof is closed for a 5 p.m. ET start.
  • Although Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke hinted he would play Casey McGehee in Game 2, he stayed with Hairston, who drove in the Brewers' first run in Game 1 with a sacrifice fly. McGehee is 5 for 5 with a homer in his career against Arizona's Hudson, while Hairston is 1 for 4.
  • Greinke is pitching on three days rest, something he did in his last start, going 6 innings, allowing five hits and two earned runs in a victory over the Pirates that helped Milwaukee get homefield advantage for this round of the playoffs. He threw just 74 pitches on Wednesday. Greinke is much better at home than on the road. At Miller Park, he's 11-0 with a 3.13 ERA and 5-6 with a 4.70 ERA on the road.
  • Greinke wasn't the only Brewer better at home -- the whole team performed better at Miller Park. The Brewers had the best home record in baseball, going 57-24 at home and 39-42 on the road.
  • Hudson has struggled in first innings this season, putting up an average of 6.00 in the first inning.
  • The only real lineup change from Game 1 is Arizona's Goldschmidt starting at first for Overbay. Overbay has faced Greinke more than any other Diamondbacks, and has been successful. He's hitting .348/.375/.652 with two homers and six RBI in 23 at-bats against the Brewers' right-hander.
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Posted on: October 1, 2011 5:31 pm
Edited on: October 1, 2011 6:28 pm
 

D-Backs aggressiveness backfires in Game 1

Kirk Gibson

By C. Trent Rosecrans

All year long, the Diamondbacks were lauded for their aggressiveness. The team, it was said, was a reflection of its manager, Kirk Gibson.

Gibson was not only a great baseball player, but he was also an All-American football player at Michigan State. He was known as a player for his football mentality, and he's getting a similar reputation as a manager. The Diamondbacks were sixth in the big leagues in going first-to-third and also second in outs on the basepaths with 75. But on Saturday was he just two aggressive? Three times the Diamondbacks chose to be aggressive -- and all three times it backfired.

• As mentioned earlier, third-base coach Matt Williams sent Willie Bloomquist from second on Justin Upton's single in the first inning. Ryan Braun's throw to the plate was there in plenty of time.

• In the sixth inning, Yuniesky Betancourt tripled with two outs. Instead of intentionally walking catcher and No. 8 hitter Jonathan Lucroy to face the pitcher, Ian Kennedy went after Lucroy, a .265 hitter on the season. Lucroy blooped a pitch out of the zone into left field, allowing Betancourt to score and give Milwaukee a 2-0 lead.

• The the big decision, Gibson left in the hands of his starter. After Ryan Braun's two-out double in the seventh, Gibson went to the mound to deliberate with Kennedy about what the right-hander wanted to do with Prince Fielder. Kennedy told his manager he wanted to go after the Brewers' slugger. After a first-pitch fastball called for a strike, the TBS cameras got a great shot of Fielder smiling, realizing Kennedy was actually going to come after him. The next pitch was a curveball down and in that Brewer crushed for a two-run homer. Coincidentally, it harkened back to the 1984 World Series when Goose Gossage pitched to Gibson, who followed with a homer. In the postgame press conference, Jerry Hairston Jr., said he pointed out the similarities to Fielder after the game. Fielder, who grew up around the Tigers as the son of Cecil Fielder, said he thought of the same play, as well.

The Diamondbacks lost because of these three decisions, but they're also in the playoffs because of that same aggressiveness, that attitude that they need to push and a go for every run they can, but at the same time challenging other teams to beat them. It backfired today, it's just who they are. They'll likely take those chances again, and more often than not they'll work out.

More postseason coverage: Postseason schedule | Brewers-Diamondbacks series | 2011 playoffs

Video: Gibson discusses Kennedy's performance, decision to pitch to Fielder.

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Posted on: October 1, 2011 4:13 pm
Edited on: October 1, 2011 4:54 pm
 

Brewers' defense comes up big in 1st

Ryan BraunBy C. Trent Rosecrans

For a team derided all season as having one of baseball's worst defenses, the Brewers got a big defensive play in the first inning of the first game of the National League divisional series when Ryan Braun threw out Arizona's Willie Bloomquist at the plate.

Watch the play here.

Bloomquist, who singled on the first pitch of the game, stole second and then tried to score on Justin Upton's single to left. Braun fielded the ball cleanly and made a two-hop throw to the plate, where catcher Jonathan Lucroy complete blocked the plate to record the second out of the inning. After the play, Gallardo settled down, retiring the next seven batters he faced before walking Aaron Hill to start the fourth. After the Hill walk, he retired the next seven he faced, as the Brewers took the lead in the fourth and added to it with another run in the sixth. Milwaukee went on to win, 4-1.

The Diamondbacks pride themselves on their aggressive base running, taking the extra base and third base coach Matt Williams waved Bloomquist around.

"Teams can't like us making them make the play all the time," manager Kirk Gibson told Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic. "They don't like it. I'm telling you. There's pressure. . . . I've made the determination that we'll be a better team by encouraging aggressiveness rather than subduing them. Understanding those risks, I just think we're a better team overall that way."

The Diamondbacks took that risk against Braun, and lost.

More Brewers-Diamondbacks

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Posted on: October 1, 2011 11:56 am
 

NLDS Game 1 preview: Gallardo owns D-Backs

Yovani Gallardo

By C. Trent Rosecrans

Diamondbacks at Brewers, 2:07 p.m. ET, Miller Park, TBS

Diamondbacks Brewers
No. Name Pos No. Name Pos
1 Willie Bloomquist SS 1 Corey Hart RF
2 Aaron Hill 2B 2 Nyjer Morgan CF
3 Justin Upton RF 3 Ryan Braun LF
4 Miguel Montero C 4 Prince Fielder 1B
5 Chris Young CF 5 Rickie Weeks 2B
6 Lyle Overbay 1B 6 Jerry Hairston Jr. 3B
7 Ryan Roberts 3B 7 Yuniesky Betancourt SS
8 Gerardo Parra LF 8 Jonathan Lucroy C
9 Ian Kennedy RHP 9 Yovani Gallardo RHP

PITCHING MATCHUPS

Kennedy vs. Brewers: The Diamondbacks' 21-game winner faced the Brewers just once this season, holding the potent Brewers offense to just four hits in seven scoreless innings. However, that one start was in Arizona and the Brewers are a much different team at home. Milwaukee is hitting .277/.344/.461 at home and .246/.307/391 away from Miller Park. Kennedy's had susccess in smalll sample sizes against Brewers batters, with Craig Counsell having the most success against him (2 for 5), while Fielder is the only Brewer batter to hit a homer off of Kennedy, tagging the right-hander once in eight at-bats, but also striking out five times. 

Gallardo vs. Diamondbacks: The Brewers right-hander has dominated the Brewers in his career, putting up a 5-0 record and 1.20 ERA in five career starts against Arizona. This season he faced Arizona twice, beating them in Milwaukee on July 6 and in Arizona on July 19. 

NOTES

Full Playoff Coverage
  • The Brewers have announced the roof at Miller Park will be closed for today's game. Weather.com says it will be 54 degrees at first pitch.
  • Fun with small sample sizes seems to be the reason for the Diamondbacks starting Overbay at first over rookie Paul Goldschmidt. Overbay is 2 for 3 in his career against Gallardo. Overbay is one of just two Diamondbacks with an average better than .333 against Gallardo, Cole Gillespie (1 for 2 with a homer) is the other. Overbay is also hot, hitting .381/.480/.667 with a homer in 25 plate appearances in September -- against, small sample sizes.
  • Another surprise in the lineups is third base for the Brewers, where Hairston gets the nod over Casey McGehee. Neither has a hit in their career against Kennedy. Expect McGehee back in the lineup Sunday against right-hander Daniel Hudson. McGehee is 5 for 5 with a homer against Hudson in his career.
  • Morgan is back in center field for Milwaukee after missing the last two regular-season games. On Monday, Morgan fouled two pitches off his right leg.
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Posted on: September 30, 2011 4:29 pm
Edited on: October 1, 2011 3:22 pm
 

2011 NLDS matchup: Brewers vs. Diamondbacks

By C. Trent Rosecrans

Milwaukee made a splash in the winter acquiring Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum -- it was a signal to the baseball world that the Brewers were going for it in 2011 and anything short of the postseason would be a disappointment in what figures to be Prince Fielder's last season in Milwaukee. Well, the Brewers responded by winning their first division title since 1982, when Harvey's Wallbangers went to the World Series as the American League representatives. While the Brewers were picked by many to be in the playoffs, the Diamondbacks were a complete surprise. Both teams have used pitching to get here, so expect some strong pitching performances.

TEAM INFORMATION

Milwaukee Brewers (host games 1, 2, 5)
96-66, NL Central champions
Manager: Ron Roenicke
Team batting statistics: .261 batting average (3rd in NL), .325 on-base percentage (4th), .425 slugging percentage (2nd)
Team pitching statistics: 3.64 ERA (7th), 1.240 WHIP (3rd), 2.86 K/BB (2nd)
Star player: LF Ryan Braun -- .332/.397/.597 33 HR, 111 RBI, 109 R, 38 2B, 6 3B, 33 SB

Arizona Diamondbacks (host games 3, 4)
94-68, NL West champions
Manager: Kirk Gibson
Team batting statistics: .250 batting average (10th in NL), .322 on-base percentage (7th), .413 slugging percentage (3rd)
Team pitching statistics: 3.80 ERA (9th), 1.286 WHIP (7th), 2.39 K/BB (7th)
Star player: RF Justin Upton -- .289/.369/.529 31 HR, 88 RBI, 105 R, 39 2B, 5 3B, 21 SB

SCHEDULE (Click here to view the entire postseason schedule)  

Game 1: ARI @ MIL, Oct. 1, 2:07 p.m. ET. Ian Kennedy (21-4, 2.88) vs. Yovani Gallardo (17-10, 3.52)
Game 2: ARI @ MIL, Oct. 2, 4:37 p.m. ET. Daniel Hudson (16-12, 3.49) vs. Zack Greinke (16-6, 3.83)
Game 3: MIL @ ARI, Oct. 4 Shaun Marcum (13-7, 3.54) vs. Joe Saunders (12-12, 3.69)
Game 4: MIL @ ARI, Oct. 5* Randy Wolf (13-10, 3.69) vs. TBD
Game 5: ARI @ MIL, Oct. 7* TBD vs. Gallardo
* if necessary

TEAM BREAKDOWN (Click player name for statistics)

Catcher
Milwaukee: Jonathan Lucroy
Arizona: Miguel Montero

Hands-down Montero is the better offensive threat, hitting .282/.351/.469 with 18 homers and 86 batted in. The 27-year-old made his first All-Star team this year and while he was once thought of as an all-offense catcher, his defense has improved.

Advantage: Diamondbacks

First base
Milwaukee: Prince Fielder
Arizona: Paul Goldschmidt

The rookie Goldschmidt has come up big in some important games, but he still has 222 fewer career homers than Fielder.

Advantage: Brewers

Second base
Milwaukee: Rickie Weeks
Arizona: Aaron Hill

The Diamondbacks and Blue Jays pulled off an August deal for struggling second basemen, sending Kelly Johnson north of the border and Hill going to Arizona. The change of scenery worked for Hill, who is hitting .315/.386/.492 in 33 games with the Diamondbacks. Weeks' numbers are down and he's coming off an ankle injury that limited him to 14 games since the end of July.

Advantage: Brewers

Shortstop
Milwaukee: Yuniesky Betancourt
Arizona: John McDonald

McDonald was an emergency stopgap acquired from the Blue Jays along with Hill in August, for the injured Stephen Drew. And Yuniesky Betancourt is Yuniesky Bentancourt, one of the worst all-around players in all of baseball.

Advantage: Diamondbacks

Third base
Milwaukee: Casey McGehee
Arizona: Ryan Roberts

Roberts is better known for his tattoos, but he's also had a decent season for the Diamondbacks, while McGehee has had a disastrous 2011. With a .223/.280/.346 line, McGehee's OPS+ is just 69. There's pop in that bat, but it's been hard to find.

Advantage: Diamondbacks

Left field
Milwaukee: Ryan Braun
Arizona: Gerardo Parra

Braun is going to be one of the favorites to win the MVP, Parra is not.

Advantage: Brewers

Center field
Milwaukee: Nyjer Morgan
Arizona: Chris Young

Young is one of the best defensive center fielders in the game, but has struggled a bit at the plate. Morgan is the Brewres' spark plug and resurrected his career in Milwaukee. Morgan's intangibles are huge -- and in the Brewers' favor.

Advantage: Brewers

Right field
Milwaukee: Corey Hart
Arizona: Justin Upton

Hart sometimes get lost in the shadow of Fielder and Braun, but he's had a pretty good season, as well, hitting .285/.356/.510 with 26 homers in 130 games. That said, Upton is one of the best young players in the game and will be in the top 10 of the MVP results.

Advantage: Diamondbacks

Starting pitching
Milwaukee: Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, Randy Wolf
Arizona: Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Joe Saunders

Both teams are strong at the top, but the Brewers have more depth, with Marcum starting Game 3 and Randy Wolf possibly starting Game 4. Of course, the three-man rotation could really help the Diamondbacks, allowing Kennedy and Hudson to pitch twice if needed. Greinke wanted out of Kansas City so he could pitch in the playoffs, and now he gets his shot.

Advantage: Brewers

Relief pitching
Milwaukee closer: John Axford
Arizona closer: J.J. Putz

Last season the Diamondbacks had a historically bad bullpen. This year it's one of the reasons they're in the playoffs. While Axford is the best of the three closers in this series (counting the Brewers' Francisco Rodriguez), the Diamondbacks have the deeper bullpen, which only improved when Kirk Gibson decided to go with a three-man rotation and put right-hander Josh Collmenter in the bullpen, where he started the season.

Advantage: Diamondbacks

Total advantage: Tie: Diamondbacks (5), Brewers (5)

PREDICTION (click here to see full postseason predictions)

CBS Experts
Evan Brunell: Brewers in 5
Gregg Doyel: Brewers in 5
Danny Knobler: Diamondbacks in 5
Scott Miller: Brewers in 4
C. Trent Rosecrans: Brewers in 4
Matt Snyder: Brewers in 4

Trent's take: I'm still not exactly sure how the Diamondbacks wound up in the playoffs. The team has been doubted from spring training to the All-Star break and even at the start of the regular season's final month. Nobody has believed in the Diamondbacks at any point of this season. So I'm pretty sure they won't be too upset to be picked against here. Milwaukee has famously "gone for it" since last season, pulling off moves big (Greinke, Rodriguez) and small (Morgan). No pitcher likes to see Braun and Fielder back-to-back in that Brewers lineup, not even a 21-winner like Kennedy. The Brewers also have the arms in the rotation to be dangerous. I like the Brewers, but it wouldn't be the first time I was wrong about Arizona.

More Brewers-Diamondbacks NLDS coverage

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Posted on: September 20, 2011 2:03 am
 

Upton hits a broken-bat homer



Alex PresleyBy C. Trent Rosecrans

Look at that photo above, and then look at the one to the right.

There is absolutely no reason for the two to be taken of the same play. But they were.

Really. Watch it here.

Yep, Justin Upton's 31st home run of the season was literally unbelievable. Pirates pitcher Jeff Carstens thought he made a great pitch on a 3-0 count. Carstens watched his 87-mph sinker shatter Upton's bat. By all logic, it should have been an easy out for left fielder Alex Presley. Instead, it landed in the left field stands.

The barrel ended up just beyond third base, while the ball went much further.

"When I saw the bat go flying, I thought it would hang up and I'd catch it like normal," Presely told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Rob Biertempfel. "I got back there in time and thought I was going to be able to make a play, but it didn't work out." 

After the game, Karstens told the Pittsburgh Trubune-Review: "All you can do is tip your cap to him. The bat snapped in half and the ball still went out. NO reason to be mad over it."

But really, Karsten's face right after the homer said even more:

Jeff Karstens 

It was the only run the Diamondbacks would score, but the only one they needed as Arizona's Ian Kennedy allowed just two hits in eight inning, while closer J.J. Putz picked up the save. 

Pittsburgh has scored just one run over its last 25 innings and is now tied with Chicago for fourth place in the National League Central.

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Posted on: September 12, 2011 4:19 pm
Edited on: September 12, 2011 5:17 pm
 

How blockbusters explain Manager of the Year

Kirk Gibson

By C. Trent Rosecrans

Joe Posnanski of Sports Illustrated came up with what he calls the "Movie Plus-Minus" -- it's a stat he uses to rank movies. It's simply this: how much he expected to like a movie versus how much he actually liked a movie. It's how a good movie can still be seen as bad, because expectations were too high -- or how a bad movie can actually be good. Anyway it's all about the expectations in judging the experience, if you don't expect much and it turns out to be good you have a more favorable impression than maybe a movie that you expect to be pretty good and turns out to be about what you expected, even if that movie is much better in a vacuum.

That's exactly how it seems that the Manager of the Year Award in baseball is awarded. Manager of the Year is usually an easy formula:

(Wins) - (Expected wins) = MoY total.

The highest number of MoY gives you the hardware.

Last year nobody expected anything out of the San Diego Padres, yet they nearly won their division. So little was expected that it didn't even matter that the Giants won the division or the Padres piddled away a lead at the end, they were in it and that was enough for the voters to make Bud Black the winner. In the American League, Terry Francona may have done his best managing in 2010, but because he finished third and the Red Sox are expected to make the playoffs every year, he finished fourth in the voting with no first-place votes. Instead it was Ron Gardenhire, followed by Ron Washington and Joe Maddon.

The likely winner in the National League this year? Well, that's easy. Kirk Gibson is going to be the overwhelming, perhaps unanimous, winner because nobody expected the Diamondbacks to contend, and here they are. Manny Acta and Maddon, whose teams were picked to make the playoffs by just about nobody, are frontrunners for this year's award in the American League.

So which managers scored high on the Movie Plus-Minus? Let's look at this summer's blockbusters and who their managerial equivalents:

Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson as Rise of the Planet of the Apes: In April, it sounded ridiculous -- another Plaent of the Apes reboot? Didn't anyone see Tim Burton's attempt? This was a bad idea. A horrible idea. And that's what it looked like in Arizona, where the team started the season with Armando Galarraga and Barry Enright in the rotation. How about Russell Branyan and Melvin Mora. Geoff Blum? But like Gibson, Apes director Rupert Wyatt made all the right moves, making the ridiculous exciting and harnessing the energy and genius of his enigmatic star (James Franco and Justin Upton). While it may not be the best movie or take home either an Oscar or a World Series title, it certainly had the highest Movie Plus-Minus and Gibson will take home some hardware, even if his team doesn't.

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke as X-Men: First Class: The franchise has had its hits, but stumbled in its last outing (X-Men: The Last Stand and 2010). Back with a new focus (the origin story for the movie and pitching for the Brewers), the movie not only lived up to tempered expectations, it exceeded them -- just like the Brewers. A thoroughly enjoyable season for the Brewers and a fun movie, both will be punished because there were decent expectations for the movie and the season, even if they delivered the goods. As a bonus, you can also use Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon to link X-Men First Class and Roenicke -- Roenicke manages Ryan Braun, who was in one of the world's worst commercials with Marissa Miller, who was on Entourage with Kevin Connolly, who was in Beyond All Boundaries with Bacon, the bad guy in X-Men: First Class.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle as Green Lantern: Neither ended up being being good, but compared to expectations, it was an Oscar and a World Series. If you weren't scared off by the words "Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan", you certainly were when you heard about the CGI suit. Expectations were incredibly low, just as they were in Pittsburgh (and after 18 losing seasons, why not?). That said, there were some bright spots -- the suit wasn't anywhere near as bad as expected and there was a sort of tongue-in-cheek nod to superhero cliches in the movie, while Andrew McCutchen is a superhero himself. Both had a  decent quick start, but in the end, both suffered as time went on and some concepts (a ring given to some dude by an alien, or Kevin Correia as an All-Star), proved too ridiculous for anyone to fully get behind the movie -- or the Pirates. In the end, though, you'll remember it as "not that bad" even if the Pirates do record their 19th consecutive losing season, but Hurdle will likely have a positive MoY score.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi as Super 8: You figured it would be good -- it was from J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg, there was plenty of money behind it. Expectations are always high for the Yankees and neither Spielberg nor Abrams are strangers to hype. A solid leading man (Kyle Chandler, Derek Jeter) and surprising performances from others thrust into lead roles (the kids in the movie and the not-quite-kids like Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia in the Yankees' rotation), made it a great summer. While some expectations can never be met, the Yankees and Super 8 got the job done. Of course, rarely are awards given for merely meeting expectations.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2: Everyone knew the story coming in -- Harry would defeat Voldemort and the trio of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels would prove as unbeatable as the Elder Wand, the Resurrection Stone and Cloak of Invisibility. It was great fun to watch, but the source material was handed to director David Yates by J.K. Rowling, just as Ruben Amaro Jr. and Pat Gillick gave Manuel this pitching and roster. Dismissed as just a press-button manager or director, the film succeeded, but those charged with doing so will have their role in making it so diminished because the perception is that it would be difficult to screw up the hand that was dealt.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy as Cowboys and Aliens: An excellent cast, a director with a good track record, beloved source material and, well, in the end it wasn't a hit.

Astros manager Brad Mills as The Smurfs: You expected it to be bad, but maybe not this bad.

Now, it'll just be interesting to see if Moneyball lives up to Art Howe's managing.

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Posted on: September 7, 2011 12:01 am
Edited on: September 7, 2011 1:06 am
 

Sizing up the NL MVP contenders



By C. Trent Rosecrans

During the week, Eye on Baseball will be profiling candidates to win baseball's major awards after the season. Tonight: the NL MVP.

Lacking perhaps the sizzle or controversy of the American League MVP race, the National League MVP race could be just as interesting. While there's plenty of buzz in the AL about whether a pitcher should win the MVP, the NL question of the MVP status quo may be about a member of a losing team taking the game's top honor. While the contending teams have some worthy candidates, the Dodgers' Matt Kemp, the Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki, the Reds' Joey Votto and the Pirates' Andrew McCutchen all have compelling arguments to be included even if their teams are well out of the race.

In alphabetical order, here are the 10 candidates that figure to appear on many of ballots:

Ryan Braun, Brewers: Braun leads the league in batting average (.335), slugging percentage (.595), OPS (.999) and runs scored (96), he's also in the top five in RBI (95) and top ten in homers (27) -- and he's doing it for a team that will be headed to the playoffs. Last season Joey Votto beat Albert Pujols convincingly on the MVP ballots (31 first-place votes out of 32), if not so convincingly on the stat sheet. The two were close to even in their offensive stats, with Votto's team winning the division title perhaps giving him the edge in the very vague category of "value." The Brewers' record could be Braun's trump card on many ballots.

Roy Halladay, Phillies: Widely considered the best pitcher in the National League, if not baseball, Halladay is having another stellar season with a 16-5 record and a 2.49 ERA. However, the pitcher for MVP argument is being made with Justin Verlander, not Halladay. While Halladay may be the best pitcher in the National League and could appear near the bottom of several ballots (he does lead the NL in pitcher WAR, 6.2 according to Baseball-Reference.com), but it will take a clear-cut best pitcher in the league to win the MVP. The Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw is making a late push for Cy Young with a 17-5 record and 2.45 ERA) and Cliff Lee may be having the best season of any Phillies' starter.

Matt Kemp, Dodgers: Going into Tuesday night's game, Kemp was third in batting average (.320), tied for second in home runs (32) and third in RBI (106), giving him a shot at becoming the National League's first triple crown winner since Joe Medwick did it in 1937. The knock on Kemp will certainly be his team's 68-72 record and a season in Los Angeles much better remembered for the drama off the field than anything done on it.

Andrew McCutchen, Pirates: At the All-Star break, this would have been a popular pick, but since then, the Pirates have faded and the star around Pittsburgh's center fielder has dimmed. But McCutchen is still having a fabulous year, cementing himself as one of the game's emerging stars. His stats have taken a dip, hitting .269/.372/.464 with 20 homers and 81 RBI to go along with 20 stolen bases. According to FanGraphs.com, he's seventh among position players in WAR, but much of his value comes from his defense. McCutchen won't win the MVP and won't finish in the top five, but he may get some votes based on his all-around game and the Pirates' impressive start.

Albert Pujols, Cardinals: You can't talk National League MVP and not bring up Albert Pujols, can you? Not even this year -- when so many counted him out at the beginning of the year and others thought he'd miss a good chunk of time with a broken bone -- can you leave out the three-time winner. He's bounced back from an awful start to hit .295/.367/.553 and lead the league in homers (34). Pujols won't win, not just because he failed to live up to the expectations he's set for himself, but also because the Cardinals have faded in the seasons last months once again.

Jose Reyes, Mets: Reyes' reward will likely come after the November announcement of the MVP and be in the form of a huge contract. A front-runner for the award for much of the season, hamstring injuries have hampered the Mets' shortstop, limiting him to 105 games. He's fallen behind Braun in the batting title race, but is still putting up a very good .332/.371/.493 line with five homers, 37 RBI and 35 stolen bases. 

Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies: The Rockies have seriously underachieved, but not Tulowitzki, who is hitting .304/.376/.550 with 29 homers and 100 RBI while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense. It seems like a matter of time before Tulowitzki wins an MVP (or two), but it won't be this year. Colorado's collapse was too great and while his offensive numbers are great, they aren't so much better than any other category that he's going to vault to the top of many ballots. He may be the best all-around player in the game (especially considering his position), but won't be the MVP.

Justin Upton, Diamondbacks: It looks like the Diamondbacks are going to run away with the NL West and their best (and perhaps only recognizable player) is Upton, the 24-year-old center fielder. Upton is hitting .296/.378/.540 with 27 homers, 82 RBI and 20 stolen bases. He's having a fantastic season and has a very bright future. That said, in what was the most important month of the season and one that saw Arizona take control of the NL West, Upton maybe his worst month of the season, hitting .260/.342/.481.

Shane Victorino, Phillies: Overshadowed by Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and even Jayson Werth in previous years, Victorino has been outstanding in 2011. He's hitting .303/.380/.529 with 15 homers and 56 RBI, while scoring 84 runs. He's won three straight Gold Gloves in center field and has been a constant for the Phillies over the years. However, on a team built around its stud pitchers, a position player may get overlooked for MVP. He finished 18th in 2009, but look for a top 10 finish this season as respect grows for one of the game's most unsung stars.

Joey Votto, Reds: Last year's winner won't repeat, but he's again having another great season, hitting .316/.428/.536, leading the National League in on-base percentage and third in OPS. He's also doing it without Scott Rolen's protection behind him. Rolen has been injured much of the season, missing 76 of the team's 141 games and his play suffering in the 65 games he has played. That's allowed pitchers to pitch around Votto, who leads the National League in walks (100) and the majors in Win Probability Added (6.9). His numbers may not quite be where they were a year ago, but he's done nothing to suggest he's not the best first baseman in the league -- and that's some pretty heady competition.

So all in all, who is the best candidate to win the MVP? We'll answer that later in the year, but you can have your say in the comments. 

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