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MLB Stock Watch: Giancarlo Stanton rises to the top in the NL MVP race

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Sometimes I think we just debate for the sheer sport of it. Even when the answer is obvious, we still debate.

If Marlins star Giancarlo Stanton isn't the NL MVP to this point, then something's wrong. There isn't any reason not to support Stanton, not any good reason anyway.

The only other NL player that has any sort of case is Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, and while Kershaw is undeniably amazing, he's also a pitcher who has appeared in a scant 16 percent of his team's games.

Stanton, toiling for a team that lacks experience or obvious other punch, and a team that lost its one other major star in ace pitcher Jose Fernandez, has managed to get the Marlins to .500 at 62-62 and keep them within 3 1/2 games of a playoff position in the NL. The Marlins' season has been nothing short of stunning, and Stanton's year nothing short of spectacular.

Stanton, hitting in one of the best pitchers' parks in baseball that has yielded an unusually low number of homers since it opened, leads the league in home runs (32), RBI (88) and WAR (6.2), and by virtue of Troy Tulowitzki falling below the needed plate appearances to qualify, he now also leads in slugging percentage (.566) and OPS (.964).

No surprise, Stanton also leads in intentional walks with 20, with light-hitting Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada the only player with more than half that total (he has 11), and that's only because Mets pitchers, save for rookie Jacob deGrom, are so inept at hitting they make Tejada look like a threat, or did until he was pulled for Wilmer Flores.

Anyway, Stanton, despite being the Marlins' solitary major threat, continues to do major damage. Sure Casey McGehee has been such a nice surprise he's a Comeback Player of the Year candidate, and Marcell Ozuna is coming along nicely. But Stanton is clearly the man in Miami.

For good measure, Stanton has turned himself into a very capable outfielder, and a pretty good base stealer, as well. All that makes his candidacy complete.

Stanton has been the best player in the National League this year. And he has been the most valuable, too. He has led the Marlins into surprise contention at a time they are without Fernandez. While it's true a .500 record might not ordinarily spell contention, with a second wild card and increasing parity, it's fair to say the Marlins are alive into late August.

Kershaw obviously has been pretty darned valuable, too, as the Dodgers won 13 straight starts of his heading into his 3-2 loss Saturday to the Brewers. Kershaw is 14-3 and leads the NL with a 1.86 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and 9.16 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In other words, he's having his typical year. He also has an incredible 6.1 WAR, especially considering how few games he pitches.

The MVP can go to pitchers, as it has on occasion, and Kershaw wouldn't be a terrible choice. He is, in fact, the only other reasonable alternative at this point, what with Andrew McCutchen on the shelf and Tulowitzki's season having blown up as long with the Rockies' season.

The trouble with Kershaw's candidacy, though, is that he isn't just a starting pitcher but also one who missed a month, leading to him appearing in only 20 of the Dodgers' 126 games. A pitcher can win, even a pitcher who misses a month, but not in a year when there's an obvious everyday candidate.

Pitchers shouldn't be ruled out of the running based on their position, but the fair precedent considering pitchers have their own prestigious year-end award is that for a pitcher to win, there should be no great choices among position players. That obviously isn't the case this year.

In this case, Stanton should be the clear-cut winner, even if he doesn't seem to be in some circles.

Bull Market

1. Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Marlins: He has nine home runs in his last 18 games, as he threatens to run away with all the power categories in the NL.

2. Kenley Jansen, RP, Dodgers: He has been lights out of late, matching sky-high expectations of Dodgers people who saw his unhittable cutter and figured superstardom was coming. Well, it's here. In 6 1/3 innings this month, he has 13 strikeouts, no walks, three saves in three tries and a 0.00 ERA. It's only too bad the powerful Dodgers aren't giving him more chances lately.

3. Max Scherzer, SP, Tigers: The price tag is only rising. Scherzer has 29 strikeouts in 23 innings this month with a 1.17 ERA. If this continues, he will obliterate the $144 million he turned down.

Honorable mention: Chris Carter, 1B, Astros; Adam LaRoche, 1B, Nationals; Robinson Cano, 2B, Mariners; Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Brewers; Nick Markakis, OF, Orioles; Starlin Castro, SS, Cubs; Freddie Freeman, 1B, Braves; Michael Brantley, OF, Indians; Nick Vincent, RP, Padres; Mike Fiers, SP, Brewers; Doug Fister, SP, Nationals; Corey Kluber, SP, Indians; Garrett Richards, SP, Angels; Kyle Hendricks, SP, Cubs; Nate Eovaldi, SP, Marlins; Phil Hughes, SP, Twins; Jordan Zimmermann, SP, Nationals; Madison Bumgarner, SP, Giants; Ryan Vogelsong, SP, Giants; Cole Hamels, SP, Phillies; Chris Tillman, SP, Orioles; Johnny Cueto, SP, Reds; Felix Hernandez, SP, Mariners; Chris Archer, SP, Rays; Chris Sale, SP, White Sox; Kershaw.

Bear Market

1. Josh Hamilton, OF, Angels: Angels manager Mike Scioscia made it easy for us when he noted that Hamilton is "not the same player" they saw as an opponent. Ahem, no he is not. Hamilton's second-half line is 216/.277/.353 after a particularly cold spell, concerning for a $25-million-a-year player with three years to go on his contract. He is five for his last 38 with 18 strikeouts. While his OPS plus of 116 isn't terrible in a down year for hitters, it was 137 on average in Texas, as Mike Axisa pointed out. Also his raw numbers suggest little impact -- eight homers, 35 RBI and a .266 batting average. Scioscia suggested a confidence issue. We can see why.

2. Coco Crisp, OF, A's: If it's true that as Crisp goes, so go the A's, it's no wonder they are struggling lately for the first time this year. Crisp is three for his last 23, dropping his batting average to .254. Oakland has lost five straight, though it still is a baseball-best 22 games over .500 (tied with the AL West rival Angels now).

3. Juan Francisco, 3B, Blue Jays: He started hot, but after going two for his last 32 he's down to .219. Looks again like an all-or-nothing guy, with too much of nothing lately.

Dishonorable Mention: Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Red Sox, Arismendy Alcantara, OF-INF, Cubs; D.J. LeMahieu, 2B, Rockies; Didi Gregorius, INF, Diamondbacks; Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox; Alex Rios, OF, Rangers; Ronald Belisario, RP, White Sox; Tyler Matzek, SP, Rockies; Alfredo Simon, SP, Reds.

Giancarlo Stanton has all but single-handedly kept the Marlins in contention into August.(USATSI)
Giancarlo Stanton has all but single-handedly kept the Marlins in contention into August. (USATSI)

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