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Dark-horse candidates building early MVP case

MLB.com @RichardJustice

Seeing how the division races -- especially those in the National League -- are scrambled in a way we didn't see coming, the Most Valuable Player Award races could also have a surprising outcome.

Everyone's checklist will include lots of familiar names: Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Aaron Judge, Mookie Betts, Paul Goldschmidt, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and a handful of others.

Seeing how the division races -- especially those in the National League -- are scrambled in a way we didn't see coming, the Most Valuable Player Award races could also have a surprising outcome.

Everyone's checklist will include lots of familiar names: Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Aaron Judge, Mookie Betts, Paul Goldschmidt, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and a handful of others.

Giancarlo Stanton eventually will play himself into consideration, and so will Anthony Rendon after he returns from the disabled list. There'll be some pitchers -- Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, etc. -- in the mix as well.

What we're looking for are players with legitimate MVP Award credentials who aren't in the conversation at this point. We want to give them their due. Here are six that ought to be included in the conversation:

Video: Didi goes deep in four consecutive games for Yanks

Didi Gregorius, SS, Yankees
Can the Yankees shortstop ever really be a dark-horse candidate? Yes, if he happens to have Stanton and Judge as teammates. Gregorius has been better than either of them to this point. He's leading the Majors in WAR and is second in OPS and is dotted around the leaderboard in an assortment of categories. Gregorius is also having a very good defensive year.

Video: Must C Classic: Pollock goes deep thrice vs. Dodgers

A.J. Pollock, CF, D-backs
Pollock may just be the NL's best all-around player at the moment, and he has played a huge role in making the D-backs the new favorites to win the NL West. He's atop the NL in WAR and wRC+ and is at or close to the top in home runs, RBIs and OPS. Defensively, Pollock is one of the three or four best center fielders in either league.

Video: ATL@NYM: Acuna, Albies, Soroka lead Braves to win

Ozzie Albies, 2B, Braves; Ronald Acuna Jr., LF, Braves
How do you separate them? OK, service time is one. Albies was with the Braves on Opening Day and has led the NL in runs, hits, doubles and total bases for much of the season. He may already be the NL's best second baseman. Acuna is finishing up his first week in the Majors and has as been every bit as good as advertised, with speed and power and the ability to make a huge impact on games.

Video: MLB Tonight: Hoskins working counts, thriving in '18

Rhys Hoskins, LF, Phillies
Turns out, that power-surge 18 home runs in Hoskins' first 50 career games last season was no fluke. Actually, he has gotten even better with a huge jump in OBP to go with an OPS that has been above .900 since Opening Day. If Hoskins' teammate in center, Odubel Herrera, making the NL All-Star team last season hadn't eliminated from him "dark horse" status, this would be an Albies-Acuna tie.

Video: NYM@SD: Cabrera belts a 3-run homer to right field

Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B. Mets
There's no discussion of the NL's best players without this guy's name coming up. Cabrera has a chance to contend for a batting title as well as 20-plus home runs for just the third time in his career. On a below-average defensive team, he more than holds his own at second base.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.