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The MVP Race Is Over - And Just Beginning
2004-08-30 09:58
by Jon Weisman

In July, Adrian Beltre couldn't make the National League All-Star Team. When August began, Adrian Beltre was not even mentioned as a candidate for NL Most Valuable Player. Today, in some quarters, he is the favorite.

However, Barry Bonds is basically going to have to go 0 for September to lose his rightful claim to the award.

Through August 26, Beltre trailed Bonds handily (and lagged six others as well) in Win Shares, according to The Hardball Times.

42 Barry Bonds
33 Scott Rolen
31 Albert Pujols
29 Mark Loretta
28 Bobby Abreu
27 Sean Casey
27 Jim Edmonds
26 Adrian Beltre

As in most measures, Bonds leads the field by a ridiculous margin - the diference between first and second place in Win Shares is greater than the difference between second and eighth.

Parenthetically, one might look at this list and wonder how San Diego second baseman Mark Loretta could be ahead of Beltre. Loretta's OPS is more than 100 points behind Beltre's, 1.048-.909). Beltre leads Loretta in Baseball Prospectus EQA (a park-adjusted stat) as well, .339 to .321.

Meanwhile, Bonds' OPS is 1.430 and his EQA is .458. Hello.

Sunday, Bonds went 4 for 5 with two home runs and six RBI to lift the Giants over the NL East-leading Braves, and the only thing the press seems to care about today is his countdown to 700 home runs (he's at 696). Not to minimize at all the importance of Bonds' career achievements, but this is exactly the kind of game that should remind people that he is the National League's Most Valuable Player. Not only are his statistics dominant, but they are meaningful. In a game the Giants needed to stay tied for the Wild Card lead, Bonds delivered. It was exactly the kind of performance that Beltre is getting so much (deserved) recognition for - yet when Bonds does it, it's not even the lead story.

Look, I wouldn't trade Beltre for Bonds, but that's because I'm human. I like Beltre. But Bonds remains the most dominant player in the game, no matter how tired a story it is.

Anyway, here comes September, and as we saw in August, MVP perceptions can change faster than the Dodger starting rotation. Assuming Bonds does not go 0 for September, he has the statistical race locked up. So he can only lose on drama, on emotion.

People think Rolen, Pujols and Edmonds of St. Louis can't win the award because they'll cut into each other's vote, but the real reason is that they can't catch Bonds on stats, and because the Cardinals are so far ahead in their divisional race, they can't catch him on drama either.

So if there's going to be any doubt at all about the MVP race, it probably will come down to Bonds and Beltre. And, bless the fates' hearts, Bonds and Beltre will face each other six times in the season's final nine days: September 24-26 in San Francisco, October 1-3 in Los Angeles.

Again, Bonds all but has the MVP won on technical merit, but style points remain to be decided.

What a highly charged finish this might be. If the Giants sustain their run at the Dodgers, those final games could offer dual duels: for the division title and the MVP.

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