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Biertempfel: With McCutchen sidelined, Kershaw becomes NL MVP front-runner

Rob Biertempfel
| Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
The Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw pitches during the first inning against the Brewers on Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014, at Miller Park in Milwaukee.
Getty Images
The Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw pitches during the first inning against the Brewers on Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014, at Miller Park in Milwaukee.

WASHINGTON — The ripple effects of Andrew McCutchen's rib injury will be felt beyond the National League Central race. His absence from the Pirates' lineup — as well as from the “SportsCenter” highlight reels — will affect the voting for the NL Most Valuable Player Award.

It could help Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Clayton Kershaw become just the fourth NL pitcher to win the award.

McCutchen went down with a rib injury during an Aug. 3 game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. A week later, he went on the 15-day disabled list. There is no timetable for when or if he will be back in action this season.

At the time he was injured, McCutchen was the frontrunner to repeat as MVP. Every day he's out, that lead erodes a bit.

Two other top candidates, Troy Tulowitzki and Paul Goldschmidt, already have sustained season-ending injuries. On Wednesday, the Colorado Rockies announced Tulowitzki will have hip surgery. The night before McCutchen was hurt, Goldschmidt, the runner-up last year, went down with a broken hand.

With the field thinned, Miami outfielder Giancarlo Stanton might end up carrying the banner for position players. Stanton leads the league in homers, RBIs and total bases.

Some voters will shy away from Stanton, though, if the Marlins finish as distant also-rans in the NL East.

Jonathan Lucroy? A solid player but not a lot of sizzle. Yasiel Puig? Some see him as immature. Todd Frazier? Too vanilla. Anthony Rizzo? Lovable or not, the Cubs are still losers.

So, Kershaw.

The Dodgers ace leads the league in ERA and wins. Kershaw has five complete games and is riding an 11-start winning streak. He ranks among the leaders in ... well, everything.

The last time a pitcher won the MVP was three years ago, when Detroit Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander bested Jacoby Ellsbury and Jose Bautista.

Since the Cy Young Award was created in 1956, seven pitchers have been named MVP. All of them posted at least 22 victories.

Kershaw, who spent a month on the disabled list, had 14 wins going into his start Saturday night against the Milwaukee Brewers. With seven or eight starts remaining, he has a good shot to reach 20.

If Kershaw racks up, say, a 20-3 record with a sub-2.00 ERA, he could run away with the MVP Award — even if McCutchen gets back in action soon.

Other observations:

• Last Wednesday, Josh Harrison finally had enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title chase. He went into Thursday's game with a .316 average, behind Tulowitzki (.340) and Justin Morneau (.324) and ahead of McCutchen (.311).

J-Hay certainly has come a long way this season. Longtime Detroit Free Press baseball writer John Lowe did a little research and came up with this nugget: At the end of April, Tulowitzki had 22 RBIs, while Harrison had just 23 at-bats.

• Chase d'Arnaud was a fourth-round pick in 2008 and was rated as the Pirates' fifth-best prospect entering the 2010 season. Now, batting .251 at Triple-A Indianapolis, he is off the team's radar.

“We've not been able to reach him the way we'd hoped,” general manager Neal Huntington admitted.

This year, d'Arnaud was switched from a middle infielder to an outfielder — organizational depth, essentially. Look for him to move on as a minor league free agent this winter.

• Last season, five NL clubs finished with at least 92 victories. The Pirates won 94 games and were just a wild-card team. What a difference a year makes. The Dodgers are on pace to lead the NL with 92 wins. Getting to 90 might be enough to claim the NL Central.

• Why were the Pirates forced to stand pat at the trade deadline? Two general managers I had contact with recently said the days of dealing big prospect packages might be over. Having two wild-card playoff teams has created more of a win-now mentality in many front offices.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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