Pujols MVP runner-up after career year

Pujols runner-up for NL MVP

ST. LOUIS -- How good was Ryan Howard this year? So good that even in a career year, Albert Pujols fell short of Howard in MVP balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. For the third time in his six-year career, Pujols finished as the runner-up for National League Most Valuable Player.

With 20 first-place votes and 12 second-place votes, Howard defeated Pujols -- last year's NL MVP -- by a total of 388 to 347. The Astros' Lance Berkman (230) and the Mets' Carlos Beltran (211) finished third and fourth, respectively.

Manager Tony La Russa expressed his support for the ultimate decision, but he couldn't hide his disappointment that another one of his Cardinals missed out on some postseason hardware.

"I would never want to disrespect players who have had outstanding seasons," said La Russa. "I'm not surprised -- not just Howard, but [Arizona Cy Young winner Brandon] Webb, I'm not surprised that they won. They both had outstanding years. But I'm disappointed, because I thought our two guys [Pujols and Chris Carpenter] ... I was hoping, and I was disappointed that they didn't get the awards."

Pujols put up career-best marks in home runs (49), RBIs (137) and slugging percentage (.671), while falling just short of a new personal best in on-base percentage (.431). He was by far the biggest offensive threat on a Cardinals team that edged out the Astros for a division title before roaring to the World Series championship in October. The St. Louis first baseman also picked up his first career Gold Glove.

Still, voters were apparently wowed by about the only two numbers where Pujols finished behind Howard.

The thunderous Phillies masher led not just the NL but the Majors with 58 home runs and 149 RBIs. He also eclipsed Pujols with 108 walks, though he struck out nearly three times as much as Pujols. And while Pujols spent time on the disabled list for the first time in his career, Howard played nearly every day, appearing in 159 games to Pujols' 143.

"The voters have to answer whether they factored in the at-bats that he missed," La Russa said. "But all I know is, you look at his stats, and if you prorate the production ... plus, he had a huge September. But I'm not going to get into it a lot, because Ryan Howard won and he should be congratulated."

Nonetheless, it's a tough one to take for the Cardinals, who leaned heavily on their slugger in a year when some key offensive parts missed big chunks of the season. In each of his six Major League seasons, Pujols has finished fourth or better in MVP voting. Yet he has only won the award once -- last year, when he outdistanced the Braves' Andruw Jones.

At the beginning of the season, it appeared that Pujols would run away with MVP honors. He got off to one of the hottest starts in baseball history, smashing 14 home runs in April. By the end of May he'd gone deep 25 times, and had already racked up 65 RBIs.

However, Pujols suffered a strained oblique muscle on June 3, and was forced to the DL for the first time. He returned on June 21 and went 4-for-4 with a home run in his second game back, then tore through July at a .361 clip with 17 extra-base hits.

By that time, though, Howard had begun his assault on NL pitching in earnest. And by the end of August, Howard was pushing 50 home runs. All this while the Phillies were climbing the Wild Card standings. Meanwhile, the Cardinals faded in September, and though they made the playoffs and Philadelphia did not, the impressions the two clubs generated in September may have colored the vote.

Pujols would have been the first player since Kirk Gibson in 1988 to win the NL MVP in the same year that his team won the World Series. He also would have been only the second Cardinal to win multiple MVP awards, along with Stan Musial.

La Russa, however, didn't let the fact that Pujols and Carpenter fell short of some postseason awards dampen his postseason.

"In the end, both guys, they got their first world championship," he said. "So that counts for everything."

2006 NL MVP Award
Voting results ¬
Player, Club1st2nd3rd4th5th6th7th8th9th10thPoints
Ryan Howard, PHI2012        388
Albert Pujols, STL12191       347
Lance Berkman, HOU  214321 1 230
Carlos Beltran, NYM 15156221  211
Miguel Cabrera, FLA  26105512 170
Alfonso Soriano, WAS  12461721106
Jose Reyes, NYM  1155341298
Chase Utley, PHI   1 67101198
David Wright, NYM  1122523170
Trevor Hoffman, SD   211122746
Andruw Jones, ATL     1215329
Carlos Delgado, NYM    111 2423
Nomar Garciaparra, LAD      2 3418
Rafael Furcal, LAD      1 3111
Garrett Atkins, COL     1 1 210
Matt Holliday, COL       12310
Aramis Ramirez, CHC       11 5
Freddy Sanchez, PIT        215
Chris Carpenter, STL      1   4
Chipper Jones, ATL       1  3
Mike Cameron, SD        1 2
Jimmy Rollins, PHI        1 2
Bronson Arroyo, CIN         11
Jason Bay, PIT         11
Past winners  Complete awards coverage

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.