Curtis Granderson doubles in the 7th inning. (Sept. 20, 2011)

Curtis Granderson doubles in the 7th inning. (Sept. 20, 2011) Credit: David Pokress

Curtis Granderson is good at baseball.

This comes as no great revelation. On a team such as the Yankees, owners of the best record in baseball, and with teammates such as Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano, themselves very good at baseball, that much is expected from a starting centerfielder. But Granderson, who went 3-for-5 with four RBIs in Tuesday night's 5-0 win over the Rays, has perhaps long-eclipsed the expectation that he be good.

These days, he's downright invaluable.

"He's meant a ton to our club," Joe Girardi said. "We've got five runs and he's got four of them . . . He's the guy who kept getting the big hits for us."

Despite his .268 average, Granderson continues to make a statement for the AL MVP award. In the second inning, when he deposited a Wade Davis 0-and-1 curveball right under the Merrill Lynch sign in rightfield for a three-run double, he proved that despite a slight September swoon (his average dropped from .284 in August), he remains an MVP front-runner.

A study through the typical numbers: 41 home runs (second in the majors), 119 RBIs (first) and 133 runs (first). But this is the post-Moneyball era, and other numbers matter now, too. Granderson's offensive wins above replacement, which attempts to quantify how many extra wins his bat has afforded the Yankees, was at 5.7 games going into the game -- tied for a respectable seventh in baseball, according to Baseball Reference. He's also in the top 10 in slugging percentage and OPS.

Tuesday night, he reached base four times -- the double to give the Yankees the 4-0 lead, a walk in the fourth, a tough-play bouncer near the mound that was credited as an RBI single, and another double to right.

Defensively, Granderson is one of the surest hands in the outfield. His .993 fielding percentage going into the game was fifth among active players with a minimum of 500 games. He has three errors this season.

That isn't to say there isn't stiff competition. There's Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander (24-5, 2.29 ERA) -- who would have to overcome the fact that he plays once every five days. There is also the Blue Jays' Jose Bautista, perhaps the favorite thanks to a league-leading 42 home runs with a .304 average, but he plays for a non-contending team.

The race will inevitably come down to the final games and after games like Tuesday night, Granderson is making a credible last stand. "At the end of the season, someone is going to vote for it and we'll find out who gets it then," he said.

So, to recap: Good at baseball. He may even be the best. You didn't hear it here first.

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