It's a two-man race for National League MVP: the best hitter most of us have ever seen against the best young hitter perhaps anyone has ever seen.
At age 39, Barry Bonds had another spectacular season. He batted .341 with 45 home runs, one every 8.7 at-bats. His slugging percentage was .749, a staggering 82 points higher than the runner-up, Albert Pujols. Bonds' on-base percentage of .529 was the fifth highest since walks became an official statistic in 1913, and 71 points higher than runner-up Todd Helton.
Leading the league in slugging and on-base percentage, almost by definition, makes you the best offensive player. Bonds did it for a division winner. Only six players have led their league in slugging and on-base percentage, gone to the playoffs and not won the MVP: Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle, Duke Snider, Pedro Guerrero, Jack Clark and Jason Giambi.
To appreciate Bonds' season is to understand the reverence showed by opposing pitchers. He walked 148 times, 37 more than anyone in the league, more than Pujols and Sammy Sosa combined. He was intentionally walked 61 times, which was more than the next three NL players combined, and nearly twice as many intentional walks as Alex Rodriguez has in his career.
You can also make a compelling MVP case for Pujols. He was a Triple Crown candidate deep into the season. He led the NL in runs scored, hits, extra-base hits, doubles and batting … and at age 23, he became the youngest batting champion since Tommy Davis in 1962.
Pujols became the first right-handed hitter to win the NL batting title since Andres Galarraga in 1993. Pujols joined Rogers Hornsby in 1922 and Vladimir Guerrero in 1999 as the only players to have a 30-game hitting streak in a 40-homer season, and Pujols nearly carried the Cardinals to the playoffs.
But Bonds' team made it to the postseason, and he had another historic season.
That could spell MVP No. 6.