About two-thirds of the way through the season the National League had three Triple Crown candidates. It created a buzz that nearly carried into September, when separation in some of the categories made the historic achievement an impossibility.

That separation also muddied the waters in the race for Most Valuable Player. Had anyone won the Triple Crown they would be a shoo-in for the award. Instead, the three candidates spread out a bit, some claiming certain categories and making the MVP selection process a case of what matters most to each particular voter. When it all gets boiled down, we have one of the closest three-man races in recent memory.

Here is our predicted order of finish for the MVP voting, to be announced Monday:

1) Albert Pujols, Cardinals – OK, so Pujols’ Cards finished second to Joey Votto’s Reds, but the two-time defending champ has a slight edge in enough areas to override the Cincinnati first baseman. Again, it is slight. Extremely slight. But someone has to win, right? Pujols does so based on the fact that he played nine more games than Votto, hit five more home runs, smacked three more doubles, drove in five more runs, drew 12 more walks, struck out 49 fewer times and, if the somewhat tainted Gold Glove Award means anything anymore, played a better first base, winning that honor over Votto. The Reds’ budding star controlled the average/percentage categories, but Pujols had a higher slugging percentage and OPS when it mattered most, with runners in scoring position. St. Louis was 2-1 without Pujols, Cincinnati 8-4 without Votto, identical winning percentages but a much larger sample size for the younger of the two. It’s Pujols by a nose.

2) Votto – Obviously after that tepid support for Pujols you already know who finished second. So, in order to keep it interesting, we’ll make the case for Votto, who would still be an outstanding choice for the award. One area in which Votto has an edge on the Cardinals’ future Hall of Famer is in an unquantifiable category: consistency. The 27-year-old Votto had one month in which his batting average was below .300 and his OPS below 1.000. That was April. He hit .332 with a 1.060 OPS thereafter. Pujols, meanwhile, topped .300 in average just once after April and it came during the month of August, when St. Louis was 11-15 and went from one-half game up on Cincinnati in the NL West to seven games back. There’s the case for Votto, plain and simple.

3) Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies – Didn’t forget about that third Triple Crown candidate. Car-Go claimed the NL batting title with a .336 average, was second to Votto in slugging and third in OPS to the top two candidates. He led the league in hits and total bases and also won a Gold Glove Award. Additionally, Gonzalez absolutely exploded in the second half of the season to spur Colorado’s annual late-summer charge. Anyone placing a first-place vote for Gonzalez is not necessarily in the wrong. It’s just that someone has to win this thing, someone has to finish second and someone has to finish third. Gonzalez is perhaps the best third-place candidate in the history of the award.