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.

Ian Kinsler lists the five toughest pitchers in the AL Central

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Every now and then, The Players’ Tribune runs a “five toughest” feature. In 2015, David Ortiz listed the five toughest pitchers he ever faced. Last month, Christian Yelich wrote up the five toughest pitchers in the NL East. Now, it’s Ian Kinsler‘s turn with the five toughest pitchers in the AL Central.

Kinsler goes into detail explaining why each pitcher is difficult to face, so hop over to The Players’ Tribune for his reasoning. His list

Presumably, Kinsler intentionally omitted his Tiger teammates from the list. He has faced Justin Verlander a fair amount earlier in his career, and he has only a .176/.333/.235 batting line in 42 plate appearances against the right-hander. Verlander’s stuff is often described as tough to hit in one phrase or another. Kinsler has also struggled against Indians starter Carlos Carrasco (.590 OPS), but one can understand why he would be omitted from a list of five given who was already listed.

Angels demote C.J. Cron to Triple-A

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Angels first baseman C.J. Cron hit a grand slam against the Mets on Sunday, but it wasn’t enough to keep his spot on the major league roster as the club announced his demotion to Triple-A Salt Lake on Monday. Infielder Nolan Fantana has been promoted from Salt Lake.

Cron, 27, was hitting a disappointing .232/.281/.305 with one home run and RBI in 90 plate appearances. I guess you can say that wasn’t the kind of Cron job the Angels were expecting. Cron was an above-average hitter in each of his first three seasons, finishing with an OPS+, or adjusted OPS, of 111, 106, and 115 (100 is average).

While Cron is figuring things out in the minors, Luis Valbuena, Jefry Marte, and Albert Pujols could each see some time at first base.