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Poll numbers reveal a tight NL MVP race

MLB.com @RichardJustice

One of the best ways to understand the scrambled National League playoff races is to look at MLB.com's Most Valuable Player Award poll. And not just the guys at the top, although that seems defined.

Freddie Freeman holds a slim lead over Nolan Arenado in what appears to be a two-man race. Meanwhile, Mike Trout continues to hold a big lead over Mookie Betts in the American League balloting of our reporters.

One of the best ways to understand the scrambled National League playoff races is to look at MLB.com's Most Valuable Player Award poll. And not just the guys at the top, although that seems defined.

Freddie Freeman holds a slim lead over Nolan Arenado in what appears to be a two-man race. Meanwhile, Mike Trout continues to hold a big lead over Mookie Betts in the American League balloting of our reporters.

Neither Atlanta's Freeman nor Colorado's Arenado has ever finished in the top three in the Baseball Writers' Association of America MVP Award balloting, but that seems likely to change, as both are having tremendous seasons at a time when their teams are in the middle of the postseason picture.

But that's only part of the story. At the moment, 11 of the 15 NL teams are within five games of a postseason berth.

The wide-open nature of the race is reflected in the MVP Award voting. Ten NL players received at least one MVP Award vote in our poll. In addition to the leaders, Milwaukee's Lorenzo Cain also received a first-place nod.

All of which makes for a chaotic final two months of the regular season -- both in the postseason chases as well as the race for the annual awards.

Here's a breakdown:

Video: MIA@ATL: Freeman jacks solo HR to right-center in 3rd

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Freddie Freeman, Braves (111 points)
Freeman received 16 of 29 first-place votes and entered play on Thursday in the NL's top five in an array of categories, including some of the most sophisticated (third in wRC+) as well as the most basic (third in OBP). He's 10 behind Arenado in home runs, but Freeman has batted .371 since July 7.

Nolan Arenado, Rockies (101 points)
Arenado received 12 first-place votes and has been near his best, clubbing 10 home runs with 20 RBIs, as the Rockies have won 20 of 27 games to cut their deficit in the NL West from eight games to one. For a player leading the league in homers, OPS and total bases, an NL MVP Award would be fitting. The slugging third baseman averaged 40 doubles, 40 homers and 131 RBIs over the previous three seasons.

Lorenzo Cain, Brewers (16 points)
Cain has been just what the Brewers hoped he would be: a complete player. He ranks near the top of the NL in most defensive metrics to go with 18 doubles, 19 steals and an .819 OPS, and his .394 on-base percentage this year is the highest of his nine-season career. Cain finished third in AL MVP Award voting in 2015 while a member of the Royals

Video: LAA@TB: Trout hammers his 30th homer of the season

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Mike Trout, Angels (140 points)
Trout received 25 of 30 first-place votes. Once upon a time, the conversation was whether or not Trout was clearly baseball's best player. That is no longer up for discussion. He is on a career arc that seems likely to be mentioned in the same breath as Ted Williams, Stan Musial and other baseball immortals. Perhaps most impressive is that Trout's eighth season has been his best, with career highs in OBP, OPS and OPS+. Trout was the first MLB player with at least 99 walks through 109 games since Barry Bonds (145) in 2004.

Mookie Betts, Red Sox (78 points)
Betts received the other five first-place votes for a season that has been so spectacular that some have argued he's more deserving of the AL MVP Award -- and not just because his team is in contention and Trout's isn't. Betts is leading the AL in batting average and slugging percentage. Regardless of whether Betts finishes first or second in the AL MVP Award race, this season has been a validation that he's one of the best players the Red Sox have ever had. At 25, we probably still haven't seen his best. On Saturday, Betts became the youngest player in franchise history to reach 100 home runs and 100 steals for his career.

Jose Ramirez, Indians (52 points)
Ramirez was the only other player to receive votes. He's got the difficult double of being tied for the AL lead in both home runs and stolen bases. Trout, Betts and Ramirez are three of the four AL players with an OPS of at least 1.000. (Boston's J.D. Martinez is the other.) Ramirez had a huge July, hitting .322 and leading the Majors with 11 steals. He was tied for second with 25 RBIs and 18 extra-base hits.

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

Freddie Freeman, Mike Trout