Chase Utley, 2B: How is it possible for a fierce defender of the Chase Utley / Placido Polanco platoon to name Utley Phillies MVP? And how could I pick him over Bobby Abreu, listed as a candidate for NL MVP?
It’s a compelling argument, but I’ll start with June 1, the second game of the homestand. Utley’s pinch grand slam against the Giants set off a chain reaction that couldn’t be stopped until the Seattle series. The Phils went 12-1 over the next two weeks, saved their season, and have milked the moment ever since.
“Star” is a subjective label. What is a star? My definition of a star differs from your definition and Howard Eskin's. In Abreu, I see star. In Utley, I see potential star. I’m not ready to crown him king of the clutch just yet, but the future heroics are looking bright.
By my measure, stars shine in big moments. When the Phils needed a hit this season, Utley delivered. Incredibly, he’s done all this in a situation that must feel like a rookie season. He’s finally full time at second after waiting his turn behind Polanco.
Making a smooth transition hasn’t been easy for the 25-year-old. A front office gaff brought Polanco back to Philadelphia in December, blocking the celebrated promotion of the former first-round pick.
Frustrated with an opening day decision to start the right-handed Polanco over Utley, fans vented their frustration at manager Charlie Manuel and Polanco, a tone that remains to this day.
Meanwhile, Utley was on the brighter side of controversy. When it was over, Polanco and Utley suffered through just two months of platooning before Polly was traded to Detroit for Ugueth Urbina, a move that wouldn’t have happened had Polanco been sitting on the bench all season. All told, the platoon was a success.
Through it all, Utley played brilliant baseball and currently ranks high among second basemen in all major categories. Hitting out of the slugging five at a position that’s one of the hardest to field, with Utley, there’s reason to hope beyond this season.
Line: .303 BA, .390 OBP, .504 SLG, 11 HR, 8 SB
Best game: July 1 vs. San Francisco. Pinch-hit grand slam.
Bobby Abreu, OF: Chase Utley may be MVP, but Bobby Abreu is still the best player. (Does that even make sense? Well, it does to me.)
It sounds like I’m turning this into a Joe Morgan vs. Bill James debate, but I’m not, nor do I have a strong conviction toward Utley. In fact, some fans go overboard with the hard-nosed play business.
This is a tough choice between two worthy candidates. However, if I had to guess … if you asked joe Phillies fan to close his eyes, forget fourth place, forget Howard Eskin, forget Hardball Times and think of one positive this half, most would say Utley, not Abreu. That’s what I’ve tried to do. I think of Utley, the positive vibe and the grand slam. Then I think of Abreu, his textbook swing and his patience and I'm glad we have him, too.
I compare it with the Orioles this season. Miguel Tejada may be MVP of the American League, but the O’s will tell you Brian Roberts deserves team MVP (I’ll take Joe Buck’s word for it from last night’s All-Star broadcast).
Phans know the numbers. Fantasy owners do, too. But those who watch game after game know the rub. The dramatic moments elude Abreu, no matter how much out-of-town broadcasters gush. It simply can’t be ignored. The season’s biggest on-field moment belongs to Utley, and after a scorching May-June, his numbers have leveled off into a typical Bobby year.
Line: .307 BA, 428 .OBP, .526 SLG, 18 HR, 67 BB, 21 SB, etc.
Best game: July 4 12-1 win at Pittsburgh. His three-run homer came at a critical moment, and he finished with a season-best 5 RBIs on the day.
Brett Myers, SP: The man that renewed our faith in Ed Wade’s golden pitching prospects, Myers lived up to his 12th pick overall status by adding pitches and improving his existing repertoire.
Early on, it was a cutter that locked up hitters, fashioned after the one Jon Lieber throws. Lately, it’s a devastating breaking pitch, in full force in his 8 1-3 innings against Atlanta on July 2. Please give this man some runs or he’ll skip town.
Line: 6-5, 3.20 ERA, 113 SO, 35 BB, 14 HR, .228 BAA
Best game: July 2 vs. Atlanta. Stopped them cold with 8 innings of shutout ball to go with nine strikeouts. Breaking ball devastating in this one.
Cory Lidle, SP: A feather in the cap of bloggers that said the best pitcher for Citizen’s Bank Park was one that kept the damn ball on the ground, Lidle has accomplished everything Jon Lieber was supposed to this season. Allowing just seven homers, he’s a model of consistency without flash, rewarded with the No. 2 spot in the rotation after the break. Often compared with Greg Maddux in his ability to think two pitches ahead, he and Myers could be frontline-caliber in half number two.
Line: 8-6, 3.65 ERA, 74 SO, 24 BB, 7 HR, .259 BAA
Best game: Plenty of candidates, including a May 22 complete game in Baltimore and an 11 strikeout game at Milwaukee May 11. But I’m going with his latest, eight innings and seven strikeouts of shutout ball against the Nationals on a hot July 9.
Pat Burrell, OF: The Bat was back, but in spurts. He and Derrek Lee shared the title of hottest hitters in baseball for a few weeks as Burrell earned player of the week honors twice, the first Phillie to do it since Von Hayes.
Since the 12-1 homestand, he’s reverted back to 2003 mode: visibly thinking too much, pulling off too much. His approach in April was to step in and hack, his stated plan back in Spring Training. Time to hack, Pat.
Line: .283 BA, .373 OBP, .498 SLG, 17 HR, 63 RBI, 87 SO, 42 BB
Best game: Bopped a big, go-ahead three-run homer against Milwaukee on June 11. Also had a big, five RBI game way back on April 9 against St. Louis. That was Gavin Floyd’s only win.
Stuck in the middle (in order): Kenny Lofton, Billy Wagner, Jimmy Rollins, Jon Lieber, Robinson Tejeda, Jason Michaels, Ryan Madson (last year’s first-half MVP), David Bell, Aaron Fultz, Randy Wolf.