It's possible that Albert Pujols' chances at a second National League Most Valuable Player Award are fading as his team sees its playoff chances slip away. But Pujols' case for the MLB Hank Aaron Award, presented by Sharp, seems as strong as ever.
Pujols is the Cardinals' nominee for the award, which he won in 2003. Though teammate Ryan Ludwick has had a breakout year, there is little doubt that Pujols is the top candidate from St. Louis.
He's already extended his streaks of consecutive seasons with 30 home runs and 100 RBIs, and he's all but assured of going eight-for-eight in batting .300 as well. But Pujols' impact goes much further. He's on his way to a career-best on-base percentage of over .450. He's slugging well over .600. He's walked nearly twice as often as he's struck out.
There simply is no more complete hitter in the game, and he's having one of his finest seasons in 2008.
"This is one of his great years," manager Tony La Russa said recently. "Look at the walks, runs scored. He is really a great player. We're lucky to watch him. I know all of us in uniform understand that. I think most of you [in the media] do. I think most of our fans do. Everybody should understand it."
This coveted honor is awarded annually to the best overall offensive performer in each league, with each club having a nominee. Fans can vote until Sunday, Oct. 12, to select the winner in each league.
The winners will be announced prior to Game 4 of the World Series on Sunday, Oct. 26. Last year's winners were Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez and Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder. Originally introduced in 1999 to honor the 25th anniversary of Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's all-time home run record, the Hank Aaron Award was the first major award to be introduced in 30 years.
When Pujols previously won the Aaron Award, in 2003, he was the National League batting champion but not the MVP. In 2005, he won the MVP but not the Aaron Award.
This year, he's a candidate for all of them. But it will help if the Cardinals can somehow finagle their way into October.
"We're still having a great year," he said recently. "Hopefully, we can finish strong and get that opportunity that we missed last year. If we don't get that opportunity, it's another year that you kind of waste. We play to get to the World Series and hopefully give another ring to the city of St. Louis."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.