PHILADELPHIA -- Two years ago, Ryan Howard edged Albert Pujols for the National League Most Valuable Player Award, despite the fact that Pujols led his team to the playoffs and eventually a World Series championship. Despite missing the playoffs that season, the Phillies had a better record than the Cardinals, and Howard's 58 homers and 149 RBIs were too significant to ignore. In 2008, Pujols won that argument for the same reason and captured the NL MVP Award, though Howard's monstrous September and Major League-leading home run (48) and RBI (146) totals made the race much closer. Pujols may have had his best season, which is saying a lot for one of the game's elite sluggers.
Howard received 12 first-place votes -- six fewer than Pujols -- and was named first, second or third on 31 of the 32 ballots submitted by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Teammate and closer Brad Lidge, who went 41-for-41 in save opportunities during the regular season, received the other two first-place votes, and finished eighth with 104 points. Chase Utley received 30 total points for a 15th-place finish. He was named on nine ballots, none higher than fourth. Howard's second-place finish brings the honor back to St. Louis, where Pujols won in '05 before giving way to Howard in '06 and shortstop Jimmy Rollins in '07. "I can only control what I do on the field, and if it's good enough [for MVP], so be it," Howard said in September, when he batted .352 with 11 homers and 32 RBIs. As dominating as Howard's September was, Pujols practically did that every month while compiling arguably his finest season. The St. Louis slugger batted .357, two points shy of his career high, and set new personal bests with a .462 on-base percentage, a 1.115 OPS and 104 walks. He slugged .653, nearly 30 points better than his career average, and cranked 37 homers and 44 doubles. Pujols drove in 116 runs, scored 100 and struck out just 54 times. He never hit lower than .302 in any month, never had an OBP lower than .413 and never slugged below .558. Howard endured some painful cold spells, notably April (.168), August (.213) and June (.234) before heating up for the final month. Without Howard's hot stretch, the Phillies might not have qualified for the postseason. "He got hot when we needed him, and we were able to get on his back for the ride," Shane Victorino said, before the NL Division Series. "That was huge." And like Pujols in '06, Howard can look at his World Series ring as the ultimate accomplishment.
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.