That punched-in-the-gut feeling of pennant-race baseball isn’t the only thing missing from the Phillies’ final month.
Courtesy of Albert Pujols, who clinched his third MVP award by the All-Star break, the Phils churn toward October with the singular objective of repeating as champions. The loudest drumbeat for an individual achievement occurred when Raul Ibanez went nuts for the first two months, but even then, Pujols was considered an immovable object sitting atop baseball’s highest pedestal. The Phils, already a postseason fixture, aren’t a trendy pick like they were in 2007, when Jimmy Rollins rode some of that momentum to MVP. Individually, J-Roll had a career year, but he also asserted himself as the face of a rapidly rising franchise that season, a guy who never slumped and never took a day off.
It’s academic because of Pujols, but it would take that kind of sentiment for a member of the Phillies to join the discussion. Chase Utley, whose injury in ‘07 helped open the door for Rollins, would be the best choice and is likely to generate more attention than any of his teammates, especially considering hip surgery was initially supposed to set him back until May. Still, he’s better suited for “team” MVP than “league” MVP. Ryan Howard bulled his way into MVP talks in '08 based on a red-hot September, but it appears his late-August surge has subsided. And any lasting sentiment over Ibanez’s bid has been snuffed out by his well-publicized swoon.
With MVP out of the question, and with rookie Tommy Hanson continuing to make his case for ROY to J.A. Happ's chagrin, the issue becomes how much Gold Glove and postseason hardware the Phillies will take home this time. That's not a bad problem to have.