First things first: If the season ended today, Joe Mauer is the American League's Most Valuable Player. When you lead the league in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage and play a premium defensive position, there's no argument. You're the MVP.
But should Mauer stumble, Mark Teixeira isn't the only other candidate -- no matter what the heavyweight media boxing match would have you believe.
One candidate, in fact, plies his trade at Fenway Park.
Check out the American League OPS standings:
1. Mauer, 1.101
2. Kevin Youkilis, .987
3. Miguel Cabrera, .952
4. Justin Morneau, .941
5. Mark Teixeira, .934
Youkilis doesn't have some of the traditional numbers -- most notably, his 66 RBI ranked him 27th in the American League. But only Mauer has gotten on base at a better clip than Youkilis this season, and only Mauer and Los Angeles' Kendry Morales are averaging more total bases per at-bat -- which is what slugging percentage measures -- than Youkilis.
Oh, and Youkilis affords his team a flexibility unlike almost any other player in the American League. Only Oakland's Bobby Crosby has played more than 30 games at first base and third base this season, and Crosby's .223 batting average detracts from his value at those two positions just a little bit.
Youkilis also happens to play both positions awfully well. His Fielding Bible plus-minus at first base this season is plus-11 -- and at third base, it's plus-1. (Crosby is at 0 at first base and at minus-6 at third base.)
The Red Sox infielder -- a guy who, you might forget, finished third in MVP voting last year -- has fallen off the radar a little bit after a scorching-hot start to the season. He hit OPS'ed over 1.000 in both April and May before seeing his OPS numbers tumble all the way down to .860 and .822 in June and July, respectively. (Derek Jeter, for what it's worth, is OPS'ing .865 for the season.)
But he's now OPS'ing 1.110 in August and, if he could keep up that pace into September, could play himself right into the MVP conversation by the end of the season.
(If Mauer stays on his pace, though, forget it.)