AL MVP: Can Mauer beat the Bronx bullies?

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Zack Greinke proved that the little guys from small markets can get it done, correctly earning the AL Cy Young award when voters overlooked his relative lack of wins (16) and focused instead on his sheer dominance over the course of this season, giving him the award over big names like CC Sabathia, Felix Hernandez and Roy Halladay.

Now it’s Joe Mauer’s turn to find out if he can beat out the big-market superstars when the AL MVP award is announced Monday at 2 p.m. ET.

The Twins’ star catcher has got to be the favorite to win the award after hitting a career-high .365 this season to earn his third batting title in the last four seasons.

But he could face a stiff challenge from a pair of high-profile and championship-celebrating New York Yankees in Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter. Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers should also get some consideration, but is a long shot to take home the award.

Mauer fans can take some solace in Greinke winning the Cy Young. If the ace of a terrible Kansas City Royals team can come out on top in what can often be a popularity contest, then why not a Minnesota Twin who led his team to the playoffs?

More hope for Mauer: If this ESPN poll is any indication, he’ll take it easily.

In a poll of 22 of ESPN’s so-called experts, 20 selected Mauer, while anchor Steve Berthiaume chose Teixeira and broadcaster Jon Miller took Jeter.

Here are the key stats on the main candidates. Feel free to state your case below:

Joe Mauer: .365 avg., 28 HR, 96 RBI, 1.031 OPS
Mark Teixeira: .292 avg., 39 HR, 122 RBI
Derek Jeter: .334 avg., 18 HR, 107 runs, 30 SB
Miguel Cabrera: .324 avg., 34 HR, 103 RBI

Meanwhile, if you have some time while awaiting the balloting results, check out Joe Posnanski’s Least Valuable awards.

Follow me on Twitter at @bharks. For more baseball news, go to NBCSports.com.

Will Middlebrooks carted off field with injury

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Phillies third baseman Will Middlebrooks suffered a serious injury during Saturday’s Grapefruit League contest against the Orioles. The infielder was chasing down a pop fly in the eighth inning when he ran into left fielder Andrew Pullin, who inadvertently trapped Middlebrooks’ ankle under his leg. Middlebrooks was unable to put weight on his leg following the collision and was carted off the field and taken to a local hospital for X-rays.

Per MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki, not much is known yet about the severity of the ankle injury or the recovery time it will require, though it appears serious enough to set Middlebrooks back considerably as he seeks a backup/bench role with the team this spring.

The 29-year-old is currently seeking another opportunity to extend his six-year major-league career in 2018. He’s coming off of two down years with the Brewers and Rangers, during which he slashed a cumulative .169/.229/.262 with four extra bases through 70 plate appearances.