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Cubs duo headlines field of NL MVP Award candidates

Rizzo, Bryant lead Murphy, Arenado, Seager in race for top player in Senior Circuit
August 8, 2016

Can you have too much of a good thing? Not when you're piling up victories, but it can complicate the handing out of awards.It's problematic for voters when a team has two players arguably worthy of winning the Most Valuable Player Award in the same season, as do the Cubs

Can you have too much of a good thing? Not when you're piling up victories, but it can complicate the handing out of awards.
It's problematic for voters when a team has two players arguably worthy of winning the Most Valuable Player Award in the same season, as do the Cubs in Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant.
Look at the 1996 Mariners. Ken Griffey Jr. was in his prime, and Alex Rodriguez looked like anything but a 20-year-old in his first full season. Both delivered a 1.000+ OPS and a WAR of at least 9.4. One was an American League Gold Glove Award winner in center field; the other a terrific shortstop.
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Either could have won the AL Most Valuable Player Award. But they split the vote, and the Rangers' Juan Gonzalez won the award in one of the tightest and most memorable award races.
Mariners manager Lou Piniella and Rodriguez both said Griffey should have won the AL MVP Award, and the two voters from Seattle would agree when it was time to cast their votes. Both voted Griffey first and Gonzalez second, and that was the margin that allowed Gonzalez to edge out A-Rod, 290-287.
The Rizzo-Bryant dynamic is evolving along the same lines. I don't see anyone more deserving than the two Cubs.
I'd be surprised if Joe Maddon voices an opinion if he's asked when September rolls around, and I'd advise Bryant not to defer to Rizzo when he gets the chance. Let's just let this thing play out and see where the chips fall. Everybody's gonna have an opinion, and mine:
1. Rizzo, 1B, Cubs
Piniella wasn't just sold on Griffey's seniority over Rodriguez. He explained that Junior was the cornerstone piece in the Mariners' lineup, the guy who carried the burden of having every pitching staff work the hardest to neutralize him. Day in, day out, Griffey made it easier for his teammates to succeed.
That sounds a lot like Rizzo. He hasn't just been a middle-of-the-order presence, but he's also the Cubs' helpful older brother, ushering in newcomers like Bryant, Addison Russell, Javier Báez and Willson Contreras and then helping make them comfortable. Rizzo has saved infielders errors and pitchers runs with defense worthy of NL Gold Glove Award consideration, and he's hitting .286 with 24 homers, 80 RBIs and a .962 OPS. He's the lead dog in a clubhouse full of alpha dogs.

2. Bryant, 3B, Cubs
Bryant was a unanimous pick as the NL Rookie of the Year Award winner in 2015, finishing with 26 home runs and 99 RBIs. Everyone knew he had more in the tank as a hitter, but did you see it coming this fast?
It took only until July 27 for Bryant to match his home run total from last season. In his age-24 season, he's raised all of his counting stats -- batting .285 with 27 homers, 69 RBIs and a .928 OPS -- while reducing his strikeout rate significantly (from 30.6 percent to 23.7). Bryant has played well defensively whether he's at third base or in the outfield corners, and he has even filled in for Rizzo at first. Bryant is a sensational baserunner with above-average speed in full stride.
On numbers alone, Bryant deserves to win the NL MVP Award. He's leading the NL in WAR as figured by both FanGraphs and baseball-reference. But Rizzo has an advantage in OPS and leadership. It's too bad, really, that they can't share the award.

3. Daniel Murphy, 2B, Nationals
What? You were expecting Bryce Harper?
While this has been a roller-coaster ride of a season for Washington's main man, Murphy has built off the strides he made working with hitting coach Kevin Long last year in New York. He's motoring toward a batting title because he's as hard to strike out as he's crushing the fat pitches. It took Murphy only until July 7 to hit his 15th homer, setting a career high, and he's on pace to hit 31 homers, drive in 118 runs and strike out only 64 times.
Murphy has worked hard to remain adequate at second base after some American League teams viewed him as a first baseman or even a designated hitter. He's been essential for the Nationals with Harper hitting .132 with one home run in 76 at-bats since July 8.

4. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies
Arenado might be the best all-around player in the NL. He's the NL's version of Manny Machado. If Arenado hadn't slowed down a little bit since the end of June, he'd be higher on this ballot. He's a lock to win his fourth consecutive NL Gold Glove Award (he's fifth in the Major Leagues at +14 Defensive Runs Saved), and he's batting .283 while leading the league with 29 homers and 87 RBIs. The Rockies' improved starting rotation wouldn't have put them into the NL Wild Card race without Arenado.

5. Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers
Seager's .300 average and 19 homers gives him an edge over the Giants' Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford, who both belong on the NL MVP Award ballot.

Phil Rogers is a national columnist for