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.

Sandy Leon homered twice in one inning, including a grand slam

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Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon achieved a rare feat during Monday afternoon’s Grapefruit League exhibition against the Orioles: he homered twice in one inning. One of those homers happened to be a grand slam.

Leon led off the top of the fifth inning with a solo home run off of Logan Verrett. Verrett continued to get knocked around, giving up three singles and a walk before being relieved by Brian Moran. Moran gave up a walk to load the bases, then a single to knock in a run and keep the bases loaded. Leon stepped back to the plate and swatted a grand slam to left field, making it an eight-run fifth for the Red Sox. The Sox would tack on one more before the inning was mercifully ended.

How often do players homer twice in one inning during the regular season? Not that often. Since 2010, the feat has been accomplished four times in the American League and twice in the National League. The Orioles’ Mark Trumbo was the only one to do it last year.

As for Leon, he’s on track to open the season as the starting catcher in Boston, Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald reported last week.

Phillies release veteran catchers Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday

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The Phillies announced on Monday that the club released veteran catchers Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday. Both were competing for the back-up catcher spot on the team’s 25-man roster. With both out of the picture, that means Andrew Knapp has won that honor.

Knapp, 25, hit a combined .266/.330/.390 with eight home runs and 46 RBI in 443 plate appearances last year at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He did not have a great spring but has hit well as of late, which likely pushed him ahead of Hanigan and Holaday. Knapp will serve as the understudy to starting catcher Cameron Rupp.