The St. Louis Cardinals have had several players jump toward the front of the National League Most Valuable Player discussion throughout the season, but none of them are likely to win the award once the season is complete.
Catcher Yadier Molina started the season on an incredible tear. He led the National League in batting average for much of the first half, peaking at .367 on June 18. He also has played his typically fantastic brand of defense and will likely win his sixth consecutive Gold Glove Award.
However, Molina’s right knee started to give him trouble at the end of July while the Cardinals were in the middle of their season-worst seven-game losing streak. Molina sat on the disabled list for the minimum 15 days and has continued to be a very valuable player for the Cardinals, but his batting average is now back down to .316, just one point better than his 2012 batting average when he finished fourth in the MVP voting.
Because defense is nearly always undervalued in the MVP vote, Molina probably will not win his first MVP award this season.
First baseman Allen Craig has his batting average at .315 and was near the league lead with 97 runs batted in through the beginning of September. He also has a league-leading .454 batting average with runners in scoring position, but he has hit just 13 homeruns and has not played since he hurt his right foot Sept. 4.
No player has hit fewer than 15 homeruns and won the National League MVP award since former Cardinals outfielder Willie McGee received the honor in 1985 with just 10 homers.
That precedent could also hurt the Cardinals third MVP candidate, Matt Carpenter, who has been incredibly consistent throughout the season and has started to draw attention as a possible recipient of postseason awards, but he has just 10 homeruns.
Of course, homeruns are not an important part of Carpenter’s game.
Carpenter leads the National League in runs scored (121), hits (193) and doubles (53). He is also third in the league in extra base hits, third in batting average, tied for fourth in singles and eighth in Wins Above Replacement (WAR), a sabremetric that incorporates data to spit out a number that says how many more wins a player adds to his team than an average major leaguer.
Unfortunately for Carpenter and the rest of the Cardinals MVP candidates, the man who will most likely win the award is first in WAR and has numbers across the board jus slightly better than the Cardinals players. Plus, he has a potentially wonderful storyline that will almost certainly help his chances.
The Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen will probably be the National League MVP if the Pirates don’t lose nearly all of their remaining games and fall from a playoff spot.
McCutchen has a better batting average (.323), more homeruns (20), more RBIs (82) and more stolen bases (27) than any of the Cardinals’ candidates.
And McCutchen is the leader of a team that has clinched its first winning season in 20 years and is on the verge of its first postseason appearance in that same time frame. Like it or not, some of the MVP voters will take that into consideration.
The Cardinals players can’t beat McCutchen with their numbers, and they cannot beat the story of his season in Pittsburgh.
But that’s how the MVP vote has gone for Cardinals players for a generation now. Chicago Cubs right fielder Sammy Sosa won the 1998 MVP even though Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire set the single-season homerun record at 70 because the Cubs made the playoffs while the Cardinals finished third in the NL Central.
San Francisco Giants left fielder Barry Bonds’ assault on the Major League Baseball record books overshadowed the great seasons Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen had in 2004, and Bonds kept Pujols from winning the MVP in 2002 and 2003, as well.
The Cardinals have been blessed with players who have had seasons that rival the best in the game for much of the past 15 years, but sometimes a perennially good team with multiple players who have great seasons can keep any one of them from winning the ultimate individual award.
Of course, not many Cardinals fans or players would probably care if they get the chance to celebrate their third World Series championship in seven years in about six weeks.