Is it too early to start serious Chase Utley-for-MVP talk?
It's only June 3, but he certainly has made an excellent case for himself as the Phillies could become the first team to have three different players win league MVP honors in three straight seasons since Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle and Elston Howard won the award for the New York Yankees from 1961 to 1963.
Utley, who would follow MVPs Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins, led the charge for the Phillies tonight in a 5-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds at Citizens Bank Park, which moved the Phils 11/2 games ahead of the Florida Marlins in the National League East.
He went 3 for 4 with a two-run home run to right field in the first inning to give the Phillies a 2-0 lead. Utley singled and tried to score in the third but was thrown out at the plate despite the fact that he barreled into Reds catcher David Ross. He also made two nice diving catches in the field, the last one ending the game.
Utley has homered in five straight games to tie a franchise record. Dick Allen (1969), Mike Schmidt (1979), and Bobby Abreu (2005) also accomplished the feat, but none of them did it twice like Utley, who also homered in five straight games from April 17 to 21. He is hitting .419 (13 for 31) with seven homers and 20 RBIs in his last eight games. He leads the majors with 21 homers and leads the National League with 52 RBIs.
"He's pretty good, isn't he?" said Kyle Kendrick, who pitched only 51/3 innings but still improved to 5-2. "I love him on my side."
"If we didn't have Chase, we definitely wouldn't be where we're at," manager Charlie Manuel said.
Naturally, Utley downplayed his hot hitting and impact on the team. Bragging is not his style.
"I think everybody throughout the course of the year, they have their good days and some bad days," Utley said. "Obviously, you want to keep the good days rolling as long as possible. There's times where you feel good at the plate. You just want to try to stick with it."
The Phillies improved to a season-best nine games over .500 at 34-25. At this point last season, they were 30-29 and in third place, six games out of first. Utley certainly has played a major role in that as Rollins spent time on the disabled list and Howard (who is hitting .272 since May 7) struggled in the first five weeks of the season.
"There are a lot of key guys to this team," Utley said. "We win as a team. We lose as a team. There's still a long way to go."
But teammates continue to be impressed with Utley.
"He's the hardest worker that I've ever played with," Geoff Jenkins said. "He studies the hardest. He's just the best in the game right now, hands down."