|Are these two mashers your NL MVP frontrunners? (Getty Images)|
As we prepare to flip our calendars to September, let's check in on the NL MVP race ...
Buster Posey, Giants: Posey is right now enjoying his finest month of the season (1.164 OPS for August), and he's lifted his overall numbers to .328/.404/.535 (plus 19 homers). That, needless to say, is outstanding production for any player, let alone a skilled defensive catcher. If the Giants, who lead the NL West at the moment, manage to fend off the drastically retooled Dodgers, then Posey's case will be that much more attractive to voters.
Andrew McCutchen, Pirates: Have the Pirates begun their slide out of contention? It's certainly possible. Their struggles coincide with McCutchen's return to earth: he's authored a meager OPS of .672 for the month of August. With that said, McCutchen's overall numbers remain excellent, and he'll have traction even if the Pirates miss out on the postseason. McCutchen's trending downward, but he's still a serious contender for the hardware.
Johnny Cueto, Reds: Consider Cueto a longshot (he might not even win the Cy Young), but there's no doubting the excellence of his numbers: 174.2 innings, league-leading 2.47 ERA, majors-leading 171 ERA+. While pitcher wins are a silly thing to pay heed to, it's worth noting that Cueto has an NL-leading 16 of them. With no standout positional candidate on his own team, Cueto is marshaling a strong case.
Yadier Molina, Cardinals: The Redbirds are increasingly looking like they'll be a part of the postseason. That means Molina, who's enjoying his finest season at the plate, will be part of the discussion. The franchise catcher is cutting down opposing base-runners at a rate of 46.2%, and he's also hitting a robust .323/.375/.511 with 17 homers and 25 doubles.
David Wright, Mets: Because so many voters convince themselves that "most valuable" means something besides "best," Wright is likely to be penalized in the balloting because of the quality of his teammates. That's too bad, because he's having an MVP-caliber season at the plate and in the field.
Ryan Braun, Brewers: Braun, of course, has no realistic shot at the award, both because of his team's struggles (see also: Wright, David) and because of the narrative behind his 2011 NL MVP triumph. Still, he's bombing opposing pitchers this season: .302/.382/.590 with an NL-leading 34 homers.
Matt Kemp, Dodgers: While Kemp's numbers have dipped a bit in August, they remain quite strong overall. But is he going to have the playing time to justify a slew of first-place votes? And if the drastically remade Dodgers barge into the playoffs, will he get credit for it in the voters' hive mind? Probably not.
Joey Votto, Reds: On a rate basis, Votto still has the best offensive numbers in the game, but, like Kemp, he's simply not going to have the playing time. Even if he returns from the DL in time to enjoy a full and productive September, it's hard to imagine that voters will reward a player who might not even reach qualifying status. Also hurting Votto's case in the eyes of some will be that his team didn't miss a beat without him.