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Edmonds at top of his game

The best race in the National League is not for division titles, but for the Most Valuable Player. The race centers in two familiar places: Barry Bonds and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Bonds is the leading candidate for MVP, he easily has been the best offensive player in the league. He leads the NL in slugging by over 150 points and his on-base percentage is a staggering .610. A .390 on-base percentage is pretty good, that's Bonds' OUT-percentage. He's leading the NL in hitting. He's on pace to draw more intentional walks than any team has in any season. No one in history has been pitched to the way Bonds has.

Then there is the Cardinals' Scott Rolen. He leads the NL with 105 RBI, he is third in runs scored, is hitting .328 with 29 home runs and arguably has been the best defensive player at any position in the league. Albert Pujols, the only player ever to finish in the top five MVP in his first three seasons, surely will make it four in a row. He leads the league in home runs (37) and runs scored, he's second in slugging and is hitting .324 with 94 RBI.

The Cardinals' third MVP candidate is center fielder Jim Edmonds. He is hitting .298 with 31 home runs and 81 RBI. His .627 slugging percentage is third in the league behind Bonds and Pujols, and Edmonds is likely to win his seventh Gold Glove. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, since the Gold Glove was established in 1957, five center fielders have slugged .600 and won a Gold Glove in the same season: Mickey Mantle (1962), Willie Mays (1957, 62-64), Fred Lynn (1979), Ken Griffey Jr. (1993-94, 96-98) and Edmonds (2003). As for center fielders who slugged .627 or higher in a Gold Glove year, only Griffey (1997), Lynn ('79) and Mays ('65) are in the club that Edmonds may join.

"I've seen the Cardinals a bunch of times this year and he's playing the best center field that I've ever seen him play,'' one scout said. "For him to move that well at his age (34) is amazing.''

Edmonds always has been an amazing talent. His swing is gorgeous. It is Ernie Els-like, you wonder how the ball travels so far when he swings with seemingly so little effort and force. The result is a combination of great hands, great timing and great recognition of what is coming. He had that swing with the Angels, the question was whether his brilliance would come out every night. Some games -- big ones, the ones in the spotlight -- Edmonds played like the best player in the league. Other nights, he wasn't as enthused, and gave away at-bats. He didn't appear interested in being a great player every game.

Those days are over.

"I saw him with Angels, and I've seen him with St. Louis, and he's a better player now,'' another scout said. "Maybe it's the intensity of Tony La Russa. Maybe it's having a great player like Albert next to him. Maybe it's playing in a baseball town like St. Louis. All I know is that guy plays hard, and plays well, every single game.''

Edmonds won't win the MVP, but likely will finish in the top five with Rolen and Pujols. In the last 20 years, only the 1993 Braves (David Justice, Fred McGriff and Ron Gant) and '84 Cubs (Ryne Sandberg, Rick Sutcliffe and Gary Mathews) have had three players in the top five of the MVP voting. The last team to have three players in the top four in the voting was the 1976 Reds (Joe Morgan, George Foster and Pete Rose). That may happen again this year. The NL may not have great division races, but it has MVP candidates.

Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to Baseball Tonight. E-mail tim.kurkjian@espnmag.com.