Handicapping the race: NL MVP

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The Nationals' Bryce Harper is an easy choice to win his first major award

Bryce Harper likely will win his first MVP award at age 22. Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The Nationals have done anything but live up to the hype in 2015.

The same can't be said for Bryce Harper.

After averaging 119 games played, 18 homers, 50 RBI and 10 stolen bases in his first three seasons, we'll remember 2015 as the year the much-hyped outfielder reached his sky-high potential.

We'll also likely recall it as the season in which Harper won his first MVP.

1. Bryce Harper, Nationals

Harper leads the NL in home runs (31), OPS (1.091), on-base percentage (.458), slugging (.632), OPS+ (195) and total bases (263), and he's second in average (.332) and tied for ninth in RBI (76).

The Nationals stud also paces all players in fWAR at 7.5, and he's second to Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke in bWAR at 8.0.

And Harper doesn't turn 23 until Oct. 16. Um, wow.

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2. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks

Paul Goldschmidt could be the runner-up for National League MVP for the second time in three years. Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Goldschmidt was the runner-up for NL MVP in 2013, when he topped the league in OPS (.952), homers (36), RBI (125), OPS+ (160), total bases (332) and slugging (.551).

Last season, the Diamondbacks first baseman was limited to 109 games by a fractured left hand.

Goldschmidt is healthy again, and he seemed headed for a second second-place finish in the last three years.

He's second among NL position players in fWAR (6.2) and bWAR (7.6), and he's in the top three in the league in RBI (first at 96), OPS (second at 1.009), slugging (second at .567), average (third at .326) and OBP (third at .442). He's also tied for sixth in homers (26) and tied for ninth in steals (20).

His career norms aren't too shabby, either -- a .299 average, .927 OPS, and 162-game averages of 30 homers, 109 RBI and 18 steals.

And he has one of MLB's best contracts. Advantage, Diamondbacks.

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3. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

Clayton Kershaw was 6-0 with a 0.92 ERA in 10 starts in July and August. Getty Images

Kershaw's string of four consecutive ERA crowns might be ended by his teammate, Greinke.

We figured only one Dodgers pitcher should be in the top five, and we gave the slightest of edges to the 2014 NL MVP, thanks to his ridiculous numbers the last two months.

In 10 July and August starts, Kershaw is 6-0 with a 0.92 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, and norms of 11.1 strikeouts and 5.5 hits allowed per nine innings. His season stats are pretty decent, too -- 11-6 with a 2.24 ERA (third in the NL), 0.90 WHIP (second), 11.5 Ks per nine (first), 6.5 hits allowed per nine and a 2.10 FIP. Kershaw also paces the league in strikeouts (236) and innings (185), and he's second in OPS allowed (.541) and third in opponents' batting average (.200).

Kershaw's current five-year run will go down as one of the best in history. We think it'll net him a fourth Cy Young Award, too.

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4. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates

Andrew McCutchen is on pace for a career high in RBI. Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

McCutchen is in the running for his fourth consecutive top-three finish in the MVP voting, and in any other year he would seem to be a shoo-in.

The Pirates outfielder is on pace to set a career high in RBI, and his numbers in August are ridiculous (a .352 average, 1.103 OPS, five homers, 19 RBI and 18 runs in 88 at-bats).

Overall, McCutchen is in the top 10 in the NL in RBI (third at 85), OPS (fourth, .928), OBP (fourth, .406), slugging (seventh, .522) and average (10th, .305). The only category in which he's noticeably down is steals -- with seven. (McCutchen had at least 20 steals each year from 2009-13.)

The last four seasons, his consistency has been remarkable. McCutchen's OPS in that span -- .953 in 2012, .912 in '13, .952 in '14 and .928 this season. He is also on pace to hit better than .300 for the fourth straight season.

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5. Joey Votto, Reds

Joey Votto has rebounded from an injury-marred 2014 with a monstrous 2015. Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Votto is fourth in the NL in fWAR (6.1) and bWAR (6.2), and like Goldschmidt, he's back to raking after an injury-interrupted 2014.

The Reds first baseman had six homers and a .799 OPS in 62 games last season. That's a tad different from his career OPS of .956, and his 162-game norm of 28 homers.

This season, a healthy Votto is on track to top the 135 times he walked in 2013, when he was sixth in the MVP race. The 2010 MVP has walked an MLB-high 111 times, and is in the top eight in the NL in OPS (third at 1.003), OBP (second at .450), slugging (third at .552), homers (eighth with 25) and average (eighth at .309).

If his team wasn't in last place, Votto might be considered for a top-three spot.

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