MVP Race Coming Down To The Wire

He's going to hit 60 home runs. But does that make Ryan Howard an automatic MVP? He's going to drive in 150 runs. But does that make Ryan Howard an automatic MVP?

He might get intentionally walked in his next 80 trips to the plate. But does that make Ryan Howard an automatic MVP?

Lots of people seem to think so these days. But the truth is, we don't. Not yet.

Not while Albert Pujols continues to drag the Cardinals toward the postseason like the human towing company he's become. Not while some of those Phillies not named Ryan Howard keep finding ways to avoid surging into the wild-card lead.

"I love Ryan Howard," says one assistant GM whose job involves scouting both leagues. "But for me, Albert Pujols is the most valuable player, in the purest sense of the definition, in the National League. … It's impossible for me to imagine the Cardinals winning that division without Albert Pujols."

Then again, it's equally impossible to imagine the Phillies still being in contention, after dumping Bobby Abreu, without Howard. And that, friends, is why this discussion group is now in session.

It's that definition -- of what the heck that word "valuable" means exactly -- that causes us to spend so much otherwise-useful time debating this MVP stuff all summer. Every summer.

We can run the stats through any computer in Silicon Valley and spit out a sheet that tells us whose numbers are the most photogenic. But the MVP award has another dimension to it. And that dimension has to do with the elusive concept of "value."

So how do we separate who was really more "valuable" -- Ryan Howard or Albert Pujols? How do we do that when one guy is stampeding toward Ruth-and-Maris-ville, and the other is having possibly his greatest season ever, in a career packed with nothing but great, greater and greatest seasons?

And, most of all, how do we do that when both teams might make it to October, mostly because their middle-of-the-order MVP mashers wouldn't let them turn into the Devil Rays?

"I honestly don't think you can separate them right now," said one scout. "But the good thing is, you don't have to. People are always in such a hurry to say it's this guy or that guy. But aren't there three weeks of season left? There are. So let it play out."

We sometimes forget at times like this that September, more and more, is the time when MVP scripts are written. Now that we live in the age of wild cards and six divisions, there are always enough races raging that opportunities show up every night for somebody to have that vintage "SportsCenter" moment, the kind that seems to say: "This is what an MVP looks like."

But increasingly, this year's NL MVP debate appears to be narrowing into a two-man wrestling match: Howard versus Pujols. If their teams keep winning and both of them keep piling up these insane numbers, this is going to be no easy call.

On one hand, Howard doesn't just lead the league in homers and RBI. He's demolishing the league in homers and RBI.

He has 11 more home runs than his closest challenger (Alfonso Soriano) and 18 more RBI (Lance Berkman). So is that what an MVP looks like? Well, let's just say you have to travel back more than 60 years to find someone who piled up margins that humongous without getting an MVP trophy out of it.

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