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LOVE IT OR LEEVE IT: Pujols for MVP

By Brenda Lee, Crimson Staff Writer

Barry Bonds is for once the nicest story in baseball. Even while having to maneuver around his enormous ego, no one denies his performances before and after his father’s death were heart-warming. Add to that the Giants’ domination of the weak NL West after getting their hearts broken in last year’s World Series, and Bonds becomes the feel good story of the year.

But he is not the NL’s Most Valuable Player. Albert Pujols is.

Pujols is an offensive machine, with numbers that approach the sublime. He entered last night’s game with 43 home runs, 124 RBI, a .363 batting average and 133 runs scored.

That’s sick.

He boasts a .443 on-base percentage and a .679 slugging percentage, which is good for an OPS of 1.122. Only Pujols, Bonds and Todd Helton are above 1.000, but Bonds’ OPS is skewed by all his free passes and Helton’s by Coors Field.

Though he has to make up a 13-RBI deficit with five games to play, Pujols is one tear from becoming baseball’s first Triple Crown since Yaz won it in 1967 and the first in the NL since Ducky Medwick in 1937. He has proven he is capable of such a run —witness his 30-game hit streak this year, during which he hit .389. Simply put, Pujols is having one of the best offensive seasons in baseball history. He is 23.

But the raw numbers aren’t the most impressive part—it’s when you compare him to the rest of the league.

He is first in the NL in batting average and runs scored, third in home runs (Bonds and Jim Thome are tied for first with 44), and fourth in RBI. Of the nine offensive categories, Pujols is in the top four of seven of them (everything but triples and stolen bases), including an NL-best 207 hits.

Gary Sheffield, who would garner MVP buzz in any other year, has said that Pujols would get his vote for MVP. Sheffield, one of Bonds’ few close friends, cited the huge RBI advantage that Pujols holds over Bonds, who has just 88. Pujols is hitting .388 with runners on; Bonds is hitting .338.

If winning games is the currency of baseball, Pujols has the biggest wallet. He leads the NL with 21 game-winning RBI and 34 go-ahead RBI.

He is the only reason the Cardinals came even remotely close to a postseason berth. St. Louis would be rivaling the Texas Rangers if not for Pujols, considering the injury-plagued seasons of J.D. Drew and Fernando Vina, the subpar year by Jim Edmonds and a pitching staff that became mediocre overnight.

Since 1995, when the wild card was instituted, Colorado’s Larry Walker is the only MVP winner who didn’t see postseason play (in 1997). He hit .366 with 49 home runs, 130 RBI and 208 hits. Pujols is right there, without playing 81 games in the hitter-friendly confines of Coors field.

And, unlike Bonds, who is known for being a lazy outfielder who conserves his energy for hitting, he’s a versatile defender with the ability to play all three outfield positions, first base and third.

Sympathy is nice, but not better than numbers.

—Staff writer Brenda E. Lee can be reached at belee@fas.harvard.edu.

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