Since Barry Bonds won his fourth consecutive National League Most Valuable Player Award in 2004, the NL MVP has had a different winner each year, with Albert Pujols outpointing Andruw Jones and Derrek Lee in 2005 and Ryan Howard edging Pujols last year.

Those campaigns were close, and this season figures to have another tight race and perhaps a fourth straight year with a different winner for the coveted award as several players are enjoying MVP-caliber seasons.

This year's race should also be close in part because, while there are a number of deserving choices, at this point no player figures to be a unanimous top pick of the voters.

One way to handicap MVP viability is to look for the best players on a contending team. One such choice is Milwaukee's Prince Fielder, although rookie Ryan Braun has put up incredible numbers in just 97 games. Fielder, however, has the best shot to become the franchise's first league MVP since Robin Yount won the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 1989.

Pujols is also having another MVP campaign, but the Cardinals face an uphill fight to return to the postseason and that could diminish his chances of winning. Ditto for Matt Holliday and Colorado.

Other contending teams have multiple MVP candidates, which can hurt an individual's chance at the award, especially if the statistics are comparable.

The NL East-leading Mets, with Carlos Beltran, David Wright and Jose Reyes, have three players who figure to receive MVP votes and perhaps crack the top 10. So does Philadelphia with Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Howard.

Florida's Miguel Cabrera and Hanley Ramirez have spectacular numbers, but it's extremely difficult to win the award playing for a team with a losing record. Cabrera, who finished fifth each of the last two years, has received MVP votes every year since he arrived in the league in 2003.

The 32 voters on the NL Most Valuable Player Award committee are required to file their ballots, listing their top 10 choices in order, before the playoffs begin. Points are awarded with 10 points for first place, nine for second, etc.

Here's a rundown of the top candidates:

»» 2007 AWARDS CANDIDATES ««
• Most Valuable Player: AL | NL
• Cy Young Award: AL | NL
• Rookie of the Year: AL | NL
• Manager of the Year: AL | NL
• Comeback Player of the Year: AL | NL

FAVORITES

Prince Fielder, Brewers: Fielder leads the National League in home runs, is among the league leaders in RBIs and has been integral in keeping Milwaukee at or near the top of the NL Central. Since Milwaukee moved to the National League in 1998, no Brewer has finished in the top 10 in MVP voting and just three (Carlos Lee, 17th in 2005, Richie Sexson, 12th in 2003 and Jeromy Burnitz, 19th in 1998) received votes. That will change this season with Fielder.

Albert Pujols, Cardinals: Since he made his Major League debut in 2001, Pujols has finished fourth, second, second, fourth, first and second, respectively, in the MVP voting. The first baseman is among the league leaders in several statistical categories, including batting average, home runs, RBIs, OPS and slugging. His candidacy would get a boost if the Cardinals make the playoffs and the Brewers don't, but he also trails Fielder in some key comparisons like home runs and RBIs by significant margins.

Jimmy Rollins, Phillies: Rollins (.294, 27 HR, 82 RBIs, 31 SB) is among the league leaders in total bases (337) and has played Gold Glove-caliber defense. No NL shortstop, however, has won the MVP award since Cincinnati's Barry Larkin in 1995.

DARK HORSES

Matt Holliday, Rockies: Holliday is second in the league in hitting (.335) and is also among the tops in the league in homers (30), RBIs (119), runs (102) and total bases (338). If the Rockies nab a playoff spot, Holliday could likewise move up higher in the MVP pecking order.

Chase Utley, Phillies: Utley's 28-game stint on the disabled list because of a broken hand undermined the All-Star second baseman's MVP campaign, but even so, Utley's numbers -- a league-leading .338 batting average, 18 homers, 92 RBIs and 258 total bases in just 115 games (through Sept. 12) -- are impressive.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Beltran, Reyes and Wright, Mets; Howard, Phillies; Cabrera and Ramirez, Marlins; Chipper Jones, Braves; Adrian Gonzalez and Jake Peavy Padres; Derrek Lee, Cubs.