Yes, it is only May 11, but the NL MVP ballots should list only two candidates this season: Atlanta’s Chipper Jones and Philadelphia’s Chase Utley.
The MLB season hasn’t reached its halfway point yet, and there is no way to tell if these two sweet-swinging sluggers will continue their tears, but they certainly show no signs of cooling off.
Through 34 games and 125 at-bats, Jones is hitting an astonishing .400, tops in the majors. His 10 home runs are good enough for third in the NL and the majors . No AL hitter has hit 10 this season, with Chicago’s Carlos Quentin coming in with nine. Kevin Youkilis, Carlos Pena and Mike Napoli have eight each.
Chipper is the only player in the majors this season in the Top Five in each of the “big three” categories: Runs Batted In, Batting Average, and Home Runs. Entering Sunday’s game against the Pirates, Chipper has batted in 29 runs and has a whopping .685 slugging percentage.
Not to mention that without Chipper, the Braves wouldn’t even sniff .500 this season. Atlanta relies on Jones, Teixeira and Francoeur for their offensive production.
Teixiera, despite hitting his fifth home run last night in a 5-2 loss to the Pirates, has done little and is only hitting .265. Francoeur is second on the team in RBI, but he still needs to lower his strikeout total and have more productive at-bats.
Atlanta’s once-dominant staff has been injury-riddled this season, losing ace John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Mike Hampton (go figure) to the DL.
Chipper, the only switch-hitter in MLB history with a career batting average over .300 and more than 300 home runs, isn’t too shabby at the hot corner either.
Jones’ NL East counterpart, Chase Utley, is also having a monster season. Utley leads the majors with 13 jacks, and his 28 runs batted in are good enough for sixth in the NL.
Utley, whose first career major league hit was a grand slam, is hitting .327 this year with a .407 on-base percentage and an astonishing .687 slugging percentage.
Chase is the main reason why Philadelphia is experiencing success this season. He leads the team in every offensive category except RBI. Outfielder Pat Burrell has 30.
First baseman Ryan Howard is hitting a lowly .169 this season, and his run production has suffered greatly. The Phillies have also had to deal with the loss of All-Star shortstop Jimmy Rollins virtually all season.
Like Jones, Utley plays solid defense and is a team leader in the clubhouse. These two are a big reason why the NL East, a three-team race alongside the Mets, should be exciting through September.
Should Jones and Utley cool off, the only comparable NL player the baseball writers could pencil in this fall would be Houston’s Lance Berkman, who has heated up of late.