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Anthony Castrovince

Three front-runners down the stretch in NL MVP race

Stanton, McCutchen and Kershaw all in the mix to bring home the coveted hardware

Three front-runners down the stretch in NL MVP race

This, it appears, will be the year the voting calamity is corrected, the year Mike Trout gets his rightful American League MVP Award.

There's no Triple Crown candidate emanating elsewhere to trample Trout's more sophisticated stat line. There's no knock against his club's competitive standing to diminish the importance of his impact. Trout's offensive stats, be they advanced or antiquated, are easy to embrace, as is the concept of his game-changing impact in other facets for an Angels team in clear contention. If anybody puts him seventh on their ballot again -- as was the case in one instance last year -- have them tarred and feathered.

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Take the easy choices when you can get them, folks. It's a complicated world out there.

Which brings us to the National League field, which is as complicated as they come.

The Pirates finally bit the bullet and put Andrew McCutchen on the disabled list earlier this week, an acknowledgment that his recovery from a fractured rib (which may or may not have been an indirect product of the D-backs' crude concepts of vengeance) will not be a miraculously brief one.

And that's a bummer for all of us. McCutchen is every bit as magnetic a presence as the Angels' wonder boy. And Cutch was, for my money, on an obvious track to become the NL's first repeat winner since some guy named Albert Pujols in 2008-08.

McCutchen can still claim that title, but he will undoubtedly have his credentials compromised by the DL stay. We've still got six-plus weeks for this thing to sort itself out, but it's already a compelling competition.

Let's take a gander at that NL MVP Award outlook.

The front-runners

Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins: He's on a fringy contender, but that's precisely the point. There's absolutely, positively no way the Marlins would still have even the faintest postseason pulse without the slugging Stanton's presence in the middle of the order.

Though his raw power is something to gawk at (his 470-foot shot to the Budweiser Balcony at Marlins Park meant free beer for all the bar's patrons), Stanton has succeeded in his mission to be a complete player. His OBP (.394) is fourth in the league and 29 points higher than last year's total. The defensive metrics rate Stanton as either second only to Jason Heyward in right or below average, depending on where you read them, but we'll take his incredible diving catch Monday night to rob Kolten Wong of extra bases as a signal that he knows what he's doing out there. And Stanton fares favorably in the counting stats that MVP Award voters have traditionally gravitated toward, leading the NL in homers (31), RBIs (82) and walks (73). He's also tops in OPS (.960) and Baseball Reference's WAR tally (5.8).

McCutchen, Pirates: We'll see how long the DL stay lasts, but McCutchen remains a front-runner, because in every meaningful category, his numbers are a tick (or more) above his 2013 NL MVP Award pace, and the Bucs (amazingly, in lieu of recent injury issues) are in the NL Wild Card top spot, and just 1 1/2 games behind the Brewers in the NL Central. McCutchen is fourth in the league in batting average, second in on-base percentage and fourth in WAR.

McCutchen leads Pittsburgh in average, OPS, homers, doubles, RBIs, walks, T-shirt sales and "Ellen" proposals. Suffice it to say, the Pirates need him back.

Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: Personally, I have nothing against the concept of a pitcher winning an MVP Award if said pitcher's performance is otherworldly and there's no obvious choice on the position-player side (a la Justin Verlander in 2011). Some will argue that's the case here, as Kershaw is 14-2 with a Major League-leading 1.78 ERA, a 0.858 WHIP, 163 strikeouts against just 19 walks in 136 1/3 innings and five complete games for a true contender. But if we can hold anything against McCutchen for missing time late in the season, can't we hold it against Kershaw for missing all of April? It is quite a dilemma.

There's no denying Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet and a vital member of the Dodgers, but I don't think I'm alone in preferring the MVP Award go to a position player, if at all possible. Realistically, Stanton might be the only guy who can make it so.

'In the conversation'

Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies: He's not just the NL leader, but the Major League leader in all three triple-slash categories -- average (.340), OBP (.432) and SLG (.603), and his WAR (5.7) is second only to Stanton because of Tulo's dazzling defense at a premium position. But he has three key points that crush his cause: 1. He's logged just 315 at-bats because he's been out since July 19 with a hip flexor strain; 2. The Rockies are going nowhere; 3. Tulowitzki has a .257/.364/.447 slash line on the road. Much respect for Tulo, but he's not the NL MVP Award winner.

Yasiel Puig, Dodgers: The most productive position player (he's fifth in the NL in OPS, at .915) on the team with the NL's best record. But there's little doubt some voters would (wrongly) hold Puig's bat flips and antics against him. Anyway, even if you can appreciate Puig's energetic persona, Kershaw has the better MVP case, especially when you factor in that Puig has just two homers since May 28.

Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez, Brewers: Both of these guys would be equally fine representatives for the Brew Crew on this list, and that's part of the problem, as they're likely to interfere with each other in the voting. And if that voting was held today, I'm not sure either one of them would have a slam-dunk NL MVP Award case. Both fall outside the league's top 10 in OPS, and neither has had a particularly strong second half (Lucroy has a .743 OPS since the break, while Gomez is at .691).

The Down-Ballot Vote Club

Anthony Rizzo, Cubs: Second in homers (26), seventh in OPS (.880) on a last-place team.

Anthony Rendon, Nationals: Best all-around player on a first-place club. Ninth in WAR (4.1). Bounced between second and third to save a Nats team in need.

Josh Harrison, Pirates: People laughed at his All-Star selection, but what this do-everything, versatile player is contributing in McCutchen's absence is no joke. He's ninth in OPS (.867), 11th in WAR (3.9).

Devin Mesoraco, Reds: Todd Frazier would be an equally good choice for a down-ballot representative from Cincinnati. Mesoraco's injuries have him currently unqualified for the batting title, but he has a .956 OPS and plays a premium position.

Adam Wainwright, Cardinals: If you had to have a Cards rep on this list, he'd be the guy, with a 14-7 record and a 2.34 ERA in 24 starts.

Hunter Pence, Giants: Same philosophy here, applied to San Francisco. He has a .286/.340/.466 slash line while playing for a contender.

Justin Upton, Braves: He ranks 10th in the NL in OPS (.857) while also producing 21 homers and 69 RBIs for an NL East contender.

Paul Goldschmidt, D-backs: Another sensational offensive season for Goldy (.300/.396/.542 with 19 homers, 69 RBIs and a league-leading 39 doubles), but that season is over because of a broken left hand, and Arizona was irrelevant by the end of April.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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