Perennial candidate Albert Pujols has strong credentials, but with St. Louis missing the playoffs, some voters will factor that against him.
The Cubs had the best record in the league, but no clear-cut MVP favorite.
Milwaukee's Ryan Braun, Atlanta's Chipper Jones and Carlos Delgado of the Mets also enjoyed MVP-caliber seasons.
Ballots had to be submitted before the playoffs began, with 10 choices on each ballot. Ten points are awarded for a first-place vote, nine for second, etc. In a bunched race such as this, it's simply too close to call.
Here's a rundown on the leading NL Most Valuable Player Award candidates, listed alphabetically:
Carlos Delgado, New York Mets: Delgado's turnaround mirrored the Mets' midseason u-turn. Delgado hit .231 the first three months of the season with 14 homers and 45 RBIs, then went on a tear under new manager Jerry Manuel to help the Mets climb into first place in the NL East before they fell into second place and finished three games behind the Phillies.
Delgado wound up hitting .281 with 38 homers and 115 RBIs. He finished third in the league in home runs and fifth in RBIs. Delgado has finished in the top six in the MVP balloting three times, with a second-place showing for Toronto in 2003 the closest he's come to winning the award. Among the negatives hurting Delgado's chances are that the Mets came up short and his batting average isn't as gaudy as some of the other candidates.
Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies: There's no way a guy who leads the NL in home runs (48) and RBIs (146) won't make a ballot of the top-10 NL MVP candidates no matter how many times he struck out (199, second most in the leauge). Howard was huge down the stretch (he hit 42 points higher in the second half and batted .352 in September) to help the Phillies catch the Mets for the NL East crown. Besides the homers and ribbies, Howard finished in the top 10 in the NL in slugging, runs, total bases and extra-base hits.
Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals: The only knock on Pujols is the Cardinals missed the playoffs. Individually, however, his stats case is second to none. He finished in the top 10 in batting average (second, .357), home runs (fifth, 37), RBIs (fourth, 116), multihit games (fourth, 56), hits (third, 187), total bases (first, 342), doubles (fourth, 44), walks (second, 104), on-base percentage (second, .462), slugging (first, .653), extra-base hits (second, 81) and hitting with runners in scoring position (second, .339).
Pujols has finished in the top 10 in each of his seven previous seasons, including the top five six times.
Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies: Utley was hitting .325 in early June and among the league leaders in a dozen categories, but he wasn't able to maintain that ridiculous pace. Even so, he finished among the top 10 in the league in total bases (sixth with 325), runs (fifth, 113), home runs (T-ninth, 33), RBIs (eighth, 105), OPS (eighth, .915) and doubles (10th, 41). Utley may not outpoint Howard, but he's certain to land in one of the 10 spots on many ballots.
Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers: Braun, the 2007 NL Rookie of the Year, led the league in extra-base hits with 83 and finished in the top 10 in home runs (tied with Pujols for fourth place with 37), RBIs (ninth, 106), total bases (second, 338) and slugging (fifth, .553). Braun also helped the Brewers reach the playoffs for the first time since 1982.
Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes and David Wright, New York Mets; Matt Holliday, Colorado Rockies; Adrian Gonzalez, San Diego Padres; Jones, Atlanta Braves; Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee, Houston Astros; Ryan Ludwick, St. Louis Cardinals; Aramis Ramirez, Chicago Cubs and Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins.