|Is the man behind the mask starting to pull away from the competition? (Getty Images)|
We're waist-deep in the stretch drive, and that means it's time to check in on the NL MVP race. Last time out, it was a two-man affair for the most part. But what about now, as we have roughly three weeks of regular-season baseball remaining?
Before we find out, though, a necessary reminder: These aren't rankings of who we think should win the MVP; rather, these are rankings of who we think, at this juncture, will win the MVP based on established voter standards ...
Buster Posey, Giants: As the Giants continue to put distance between themselves and the headline-grabbing Dodgers, Posey's case improves. Besides manning the most demanding position on the diamond, he's also hitting a thumping-good .327/.402/.531 with 53 extra-base hits. What also helps his case are his outstanding numbers in the second half. Right now, consider Posey your clear favorite.
Chase Headley, Padres: Don't discount Headley. Despite playing in the toughest hitter's park in baseball, Headley boasts an OPS of .857 and 27 homers. He's also leading the senior circuit in RBI. Throw in his (justified) reputation as a top-shelf defender at the hot corner, and you have a certifiable MVP candidate. He has a shot.
Jay Bruce, Reds: The Reds' ability to thrive during the absence of Joey Votto has many causes, but Bruce is chief among them. He's by no means a frontrunner, but he has the home runs (33) and RBI (96) to earn some traction with traditional-minded voters. The "Great American Ballpark discount" will cost him some votes, but he's putting himself in the discussion.
Ryan Braun, Brewers: No, Braun almost certainly won't win the NL MVP award this year, but there's no denying his numbers: .313/.387/.602, 38 homers, 29 doubles. He's out-slugging the NL average by 200 points. He has also been the best pure hitter in the league this season, and that will be good enough for some down-ballot support.
Yadier Molina, Cardinals: Molina is having a career year at the plate (.321/.373/.505) and, of course, providing Gold Glove-caliber work behind it. He's a worthy candidate, but he's in essence blocked by Posey, a fellow catcher who's simply having the better season for the better team.
Andrew McCutchen, Pirates: Although McCutchen is indeed trending downward in this race, he's still the candidate with the best chance of challenging Posey. His overall numbers remain very strong (.341/.407/.559, 25 HR), but the Pirates' recent skid in tandem with his second-half dip have hurt his chances. Still, the Buccos are within hailing distance of a wild-card berth. A spot in the playoffs would almost certainly mean hardware for 'Cutch.
David Wright, Mets: Wright's still having an excellent season, but his slightly declining numbers and the Mets' increasing irrelevance make him a long-shot.