NEW YORK (Reuters) - St Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols won the National League Most Valuable Player award on Monday.
Pujols, who also won MVP honors in 2005, garnered 18 first-place votes in balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America and collected a total of 369 points.
Philadelphia Phillies slugger Ryan Howard, the 2006 MVP, was second after receiving 12 first-place votes and 308 points.
Pujols, who helped keep St Louis (86-76) in the wildcard race until the end of the season, was second in the league with a .357 batting average to go with 37 homers, 116 RBI and a league-best slugging percentage of .653.
First baseman Howard came on strong in the stretch as the Phillies won the NL East before landing the World Series. He led the league with 48 homers and 146 RBI but batted just .251 and struck out 199 times.
Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun, who hit 37 homers and drove in 106 runs, was a distant third with 139 points.
Some handicappers thought Pujols would be hurt in the voting since the Cards' missed the playoffs. The 28-year-old Dominican, however, said he was not surprised to win it.
"We were contenders until the last few weeks of season," Pujols told reporters in a conference call. "We had a pretty good chance all year long.
"I wasn't surprised at all. I thought my numbers were good."
Pujols said he was most proud of maintaining a high batting average, while keeping his walks high (a career best 104) and strikeouts low (54).
"I put in a lot of hard work on my hitting," said Pujols, who had an on-base percentage of .462. "I prefer to put the ball in play because I think it helps the team.
"To hit .357 all year is pretty hard to do. I'm pretty proud of that. The home runs and RBI are going to come."
Pujols, who is recovering from surgery to repair ligaments in his right elbow, said he was optimistic about next season.
"You can always improve," he said. "We fell a little bit short as a team but we had a great season."
Manny Ramirez was fourth in the voting, one point behind Braun, after joining the Los Angeles Dodgers in a mid-season trade with the Boston Red Sox.
He batted .396 with 17 homers and 53 RBI in 53 games to help the Dodgers reach the playoffs.
CC Sabathia, another player traded from an American League team during the season, helped Milwaukee into the playoffs and was sixth in the voting behind Houston's Lance Berkman.
(Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by John Mehaffey)
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