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NL MVP Watch: Andrew McCutchen flies his flag

By Dayn Perry | Baseball Writer

Andrew McCutchen is doing great things in Pittsburgh this season. (USATSI)
Andrew McCutchen is doing great things in Pittsburgh this season. (USATSI)

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Let again revisit our Awards Watch series and check in on the current status of the National League Most Valuable Player race.

Before we run down the leading candidates, please keep in mind that these are predictions based on the season to date and not statements of who deserves to win. In other words, the driver here is how we think the BBWAA will vote for NL MVP when the time comes. Of course, there's still time for things to change ...

[Players listed alphabetically within categories]

Front-runner(s)

Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
If ever a team's place in the standings mattered to voters -- and it usually does no matter what -- it will when it comes to McCutchen and the Pirates. The Buccos, of course, are working toward their first playoff berth since 1992, and McCutchen, as the team's best player and acknowledged leader, will receive plenty of support based on that alone. Throw in the fact that he's also batting .319/.397/.503 with excellent defense and base-running, and you have a clear frontrunner in the NL.

In the mix

Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
Goldschmidt has a real shot at pacing the NL in homers and RBI, but it would probably take that plus a strong finish plus a D-backs playoff berth to win him the hardware. On that front, Arizona at this writing has just a 2.8-percent chance of reaching the postseason, per CoolStandings.com.

Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
The NL Cy Young certainly belongs to Kershaw, but very recent struggles (seven runs allowed over his last 10 2/3 innings) have hurt his MVP cause just a bit. With that said, Kershaw still boasts a majors-leading ERA of 1.89 and a majors-leading 209 innings pitched.

Yadier Molina, Cardinals
The best defensive catcher on the planet is also hitting a robust .327/.366/.486 (compare that to the average MLB catcher this season, who's batting .248/.314/.394. What might hurt him, though, is that he could wind up with roughly 150 fewer plate appearances than McCutchen, depending on how much Molina's mounting aches and pains permit him to play down the stretch.

Fading away

Carlos Gomez, Brewers
He might be the best defensive center fielder in baseball, and he boasts a 2013 slash line of .286/.341/.508 with 32 steals in 38 attempts. It's an MVP-caliber season for sure, but with equally compelling candidates on teams (likely) headed to the playoffs, Gomez will almost certainly come up short.

Dark horse(s)

Matt Carpenter, Cardinals
It indeed seems that Molina will win the votes of those inclined to support a Cardinal, but if Molina plays irregularly over the final month of the season and the Cards wind up winning the NL Central, then Carpenter could gain some traction. It would be justified, as he's played good defense in his first season as a second baseman, and he's batting .312/.381/.473 (136 OPS+) while leading the NL in hits and doubles.

Shin-Soo Choo, Reds
Like Miguel Cabrera last year, Choo figures to earn some points for his willingness to shift to a more premium position (center field, in his case). With the bat, his 2013 is going swimmingly: .285/.415/.466 with 19 homers from the leadoff spot and 253 times on base, which is good for second in the NL.

Joey Votto, Reds
There's some misguided criticism toward Votto regarding his RBI total, but a strong September in tandem with a Reds division title could put him in the mix. He leads the NL with a .430 OBP, and his OPS+ of 152 ranks fifth in the league.

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