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2013 MLB Award Watch: Top Five National League MVP Candidates

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Top Five Candidates For National League MVP

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Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey had a banner year in 2012, leading the National League in hitting (.336 batting average) while taking home the National League MVP and National League Comeback Player of the Year awards. If that wasn’t enough, he helped lead the Giants to their second World Series title in three years as well.

Playing behind the plate will make it hard for Posey to sustain last year’s production year after year, but playing some first base (29 games last season) should help him stay on the field and be a MVP contender for many years to come.

Any talk of who will win the National League MVP this season has to include two other recent winners in Ryan Braun (2011) and Joey Votto (2010). In fact, Braun finished second in the voting to Posey last year with remarkably similar numbers to his MVP campaign, but with a bump up in home runs (41, 33 in 2011). A cloud of suspicion over possible performance-enhancing drug use hangs over Braun, and may continue to cost him MVP votes until there is a resolution.

When compiling this list, as did with my preseason American League MVP candidates, I have focused on players that have yet to win an MVP award in their career. All five I have chosen qualify as recognizable names to baseball fans, but not all of them may come to mind immediately when thinking of the best players in the senior circuit.

Here are my top five candidates for National League MVP in 2013. Who makes your list? Did I miss someone that should be obvious?

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5. Giancarlo Stanton, RF, Miami Marlins

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Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

Stanton battled knee and oblique issues last season, but still hit .290 with a career-high 37 home runs in just 123 games. He is the one star player left in Miami this season, so it’s conceivable that opposing teams will pitch around him at all costs and limit his opportunities to produce. But there are few hitters in all of baseball with Stanton’s power potential, and 50 home runs is not out of the question with better health in 2013.

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4. Hanley Ramirez, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers

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Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Ramirez clearly needed a change of scenery, and he got it when the Marlins traded him to the Dodgers last season. He was better in Los Angeles (.271, 10 home runs, 44 RBI over 272 plate appearances), but the budding star we saw from 2007-2009 has surely faded. It’s easy to forget Ramirez is still just 29 years old, and a move back to shortstop for a full season with a good lineup around him should help enhance his production in 2013. If the Dodgers are as good as advertised someone may become an MVP candidate, and Ramirez is as strong a possibility as anyone else on the roster.

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3. Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pittsburgh Pirates

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

McCutchen had a strong 2012 campaign, leading the National League in hits (194) and finishing in the top-10 in batting average (.327-second) and runs scored (107-tied for second). He also set career-highs in home runs (31) and RBI (96) while stealing at least 20 bases for the fourth straight season, so it’s no surprise he finished third in the MVP voting. McCutchen will again be the key cog to any success the Pirates have this season, and he should again be a legit MVP candidate.

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2. Jason Heyward, RF, Atlanta Braves

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Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Heyward’s third major league season was the charm in 2012, as he set career-highs across the board offensively and won his first career Gold Glove. Having Justin Upton and B.J. Upton around him in the middle of Atlanta’s lineup could lead to another step forward in 2013, making 40 home runs and well over 100 RBI a possibility. Even if Heyward does not earn MVP honors this year, he should be a perennial contender for years to come.

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1. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Washington Nationals

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Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Zimmerman got to a slow start in 2012, due in part to a right shoulder issue, hitting just .234 with five home runs through the end of June. But cortisone shots to help the injury did the trick, as Zimmerman hit .319 with 20 home runs and 64 RBI from July 1 through the end of the season. Offseason surgery will hopefully fix the shoulder issue for good, and all indications are he is making excellent progress in his recovery so far this spring. Zimmerman does not get the attention that some of his teammates do, but if he is healthy a season on par with 2009 (.292, 33 home runs, 106 RBI), or perhaps even better than that, could be coming.