Like the AL Central and Wild Card races down the stretch, this race is simply too close to call.
Further fueling the debate as to who will be crowned AL MVP is that some of the contending teams had more than one legitimate candidate, such as Minnesota with Justin Morneau, Johan Santana and Joe Mauer, or Chicago with Jermaine Dye, Jim Thome and Paul Konerko.
Then there's Detroit, which had the best record in baseball for much of the season, then went on a playoff tear and yet arguably does not have any candidates who figure to land on one of the top two spots on an MVP ballot. Ballots had to be returned before the playoffs begin, so postseason performance is not a consideration.
Other hopefuls with great stats such as David Ortiz of Boston, Travis Hafner of Cleveland and Vladimir Guerrero of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim play for teams which all missed the playoffs.
While missing the postseason doesn't preclude MVP candidacy -- Alex Rodriguez won the AL MVP as a member of the Texas Rangers in 2003 -- voters historically have tended to vote for candidates on playoff teams over players on non-playoff teams. Rodriguez is the only player from a non-playoff team to win the AL MVP in the last 14 years.
Here's a breakdown of the candidates for the 2006 AL MVP, listed alphabetically:
Jermaine Dye, Chicago White Sox: Teammate Jim Thome was the more compelling candidate at the All-Star break, but Dye's excellent first half (.318, 25 HR, 68 RBI) was only the warmup for his sensational finish. The slugging outfielder was among the league leaders in several key statistical categories, including homers, batting average, RBIs, slugging and on-base plus slugging percentage.
Dye was a force on a team in the forefront of the playoff picture until a late fade. In his first 52 games following the break, he drove in 44 runs.
Dye hit .344 in July and .355 in August, while slugging .708 and .682, respectively. Dye came up big in key games, like his three homers in four games against Detroit late last month to help the White Sox gain a split with the division leaders. The right fielder was again outstanding defensively.
"[Jermaine] Dye definitely deserves MVP consideration in my opinion," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said.
Derek Jeter, New York Yankees: His 14 homers and 97 RBIs don't measure up to the considerable totals of most of the other contenders or even a couple of his teammates (Rodriguez and Jason Giambi) but Jeter was a consistent force for the team with the best record in the American League.
Jeter could follow in the footsteps of Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki, who won the 2001 MVP. That year Ichiro hit only eight homers and drove in 69 runs for the Mariners but he led the league with a .350 batting average as the Mariners had the best record in baseball.
Jeter has an active 23-game hitting streak and his .344 batting average was second in the league to Minnesota's Mauer (.347).
Justin Morneau, Minnesota Twins: Morneau was huge during Minnesota's resurgence and while he hasn't received as much national recognition as some of his peers, Morneau's numbers compare favorably with every other candidate.
Only Philadelphia's Ryan Howard, Boston's Ortiz and Houston's Lance Berkman drove in more runs than Morneau. In 592 at-bats, the fine fielding first baseman had 34 homers and yet had fanned only 93 times. Among the sluggers on a pace for 40 or more homers, only Albert Pujols of St. Louis (50 strikeouts in 535 at-bats) had a better strikeouts-to-at-bats ratio.
Morneau has also picked it up down the stretch, another trait popular with voters. In 56 games following the break, Morneau hit .348 with a .407 on-base percentage while driving in 45 runs. For the season, Morneau ranked in the top 15 in the Major Leagues in no fewer than six statistical categories.
David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox: Big Papi certainly has MVP numbers. Though he missed 11 games, Ortiz still led the AL in total bases, RBIs, home runs and ranked among the top 5 in the league in slugging, OPS and runs.
Unfortunately for Ortiz, his team has struggled in the second half and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2002. His numbers are excellent but probably not overwhelming enough to swing enough votes his way.
Johan Santana, Minnesota Twins: A sensational second half has not only solidified the lefty's Cy Young candidacy, but he's been so dominating he's sure to pick up MVP momentum. Even so, he'll have a tough time winning the trophy as position players have won the past 13 AL MVP Awards.
The last pitcher to win the honor was Dennis Eckersley in 1992. In the NL, the MVP drought for pitchers has been even longer -- Bob Gibson won it in 1968.
Others of note:
Vladimir Guerrero, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Great numbers but likely not good enough to vault Vladdy to the forefront of the MVP picture.
Travis Hafner, Cleveland Indians: The Major League leader in OPS, Hafner was also leading the AL in slugging and on-base percentage and was second to Ortiz in home runs and third behind Ortiz and Morneau in RBIs when his season was cut short due to a fractured right hand. Like Ortiz, Hafner would have a hard time winning the hardware on an also-ran anyway.
Paul Konerko, Chicago White Sox: Deserving numbers even if he's not as compelling a candidate as teammates Dye and Thome.
Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins: The Major League leader in batting, the All-Star catcher was a force for the surprising Twins, though it is difficult to see Mauer outpolling his teammates Morneau and Santana.
Frank Thomas, Oakland A's: He was a strong Comeback Player of the Year candidate, and he also deserves consideration for MVP for the AL West winners.
Jim Thome, Chicago White Sox: Thome looked like the MVP back in July after hitting .298 with 30 homers and 77 RBIs in the first half, but he wasn't able to maintain that level of power production in the second half (.274, 12, 32). Overall, Thome's numbers for the season will certainly put him somewhere on a lot of ballots.
Unfortunately for Thome, who took the MLB Comeback Player of the Year, he isn't even the obvious MVP candidate on his team.
Vernon Wells, Toronto: Finished off pace, but still strong with a .303 mark with 32 homers and 106 RBIs.