The Philadelphia Phillies’ batting order features both NL MVPs from the last two seasons. It’s very possible, however, that its most dangerous hitter is one who hasn’t earned that distinction - yet.
There aren’t many holes in Philadelphia’s lineup, which boasts 2006 league MVP Ryan Howard and reigning MVP Jimmy Rollins. Though Utley can’t claim to have won the league’s most prestigious individual award, he has finished in the top 10 in voting in each of the last two seasons - his second and third as a full-time major-leaguer.
Utley was considered one of the frontrunners last year, but a broken hand cost him a month of the season, and perhaps a shot at the trophy.
Though that injury limited the All-Star second baseman to 132 games, Utley still managed to hit 22 home runs, drive in 103 runs and score 104 more, all while compiling a .332 batting average.
He hasn’t missed a beat in 2008, going 5-for-14 (.357) with a major league-leading three home runs, five RBIs and six runs scored without a strikeout in his first four games.
Utley hit two homers to lead the Phillies (2-2) to an 8-4 victory in the opener of this series on Friday night. The second of those home runs was the 100th of his career.
“To me, it’s just another home run,” Utley said.
It might have meant a little more to Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, whose team lost its first two games, including a 1-0 shutout against Washington on Wednesday.
“The last two games, we’ve started swinging the bat pretty good,” said Manuel, whose team led the NL in runs scored last season with 892. “We need to. We have to.”
Utley will try to continue his strong start against one of his favorite opponents. In his last six games against Cincinnati (2-2), he’s 13-for-22 (.591) with six home runs, 13 RBIs and 13 runs scored. Including Friday, he has hit two homers in each of his last two games against the Reds.
Cincinnati, however, will be turning to ace Aaron Harang (0-1, 3.00 ERA) as it tries to even the series. The right-hander is 11-2 in 21 career starts in April, but that doesn’t include his opening-day start Monday, March 31. He gave up three hits while striking out six in six innings of that game, but two of those hits were home runs and Cincinnati fell 4-2.
Utley is 3-for-9 with one homer and one double in his career against Harang, who has struggled against the Phillies. In six career games - five starts - against them, he’s 1-1 with a 7.39 ERA - his highest mark against any NL club.
Harang will match up against Philadelphia’s Adam Eaton, who’s making his first start of the season after a dismal 2007 campaign. After signing a three-year, $24.5 million deal with the Phillies, the right-hander went 10-10 with a 6.29 ERA in 30 starts. He fell one-third of an inning short of qualifying, but would have had the worst ERA in the NL.
However, Eaton is 2-0 with a 4.35 ERA in five career starts against the Reds, and his team has won each of those games.
Cincinnati outfielder Ken Griffey Jr., who has reached base in five of eight plate appearances in his last two games, is 3-for-5 with two homers and four walks in his career against Eaton.