Votebook: Utley, Pedroia lead field
Phils, Sox second basemen setting bar for other contenders
For National League second basemen, the chase is on to emulate Chase Utley.
Through the opening month of the season, the Phillies' leader raised the bar for second basemen everywhere. Utley roared into May hitting .360 with 11 homers and 23 RBIs. That robust performance earned Utley the NL Player of the Month award, and through Sunday he had a .357 average with 13 homers and 26 RBIs. The rousing start puts Utley in a prime position to attract a siege of votes for the July 15 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium.
Utley led the Phillies to their first winning April (15-13) since 2003 by carrying a Philadelphia offense that has been missing Jimmy Rollins.
"You try to approach every game the same way, whether you have all the guys in the lineup or nobody in the lineup. That keeps it simple," Utley said.
Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel marvels at Utley's consistency.
"This guy plays the same way every day," Manuel said. "He expects to have a big game every day. When he doesn't, he expects to have a big day tomorrow. He's one of the big reasons for the attitude on our team, as far as resilience. I've been in the game a long time and he's just as tough as any player I've ever seen."
Dodgers second baseman Jeff Kent, who is off to a strong start with a ballclub that has been on a roll in recent days, applauds the approach that Utley has at the plate.
"He's just a really good player and a very solid hitter," Kent said.
With a lot of baseball to be played before the All-Star voting ends, several other NL second basemen -- Kent included -- could wind up challenging Utley.
Orlando Hudson is making significant contributions for the sizzling Arizona Diamondbacks and Mark DeRosa has been thriving as the Chicago Cubs strive for another trip to the postseason. Brandon Phillips has shown some punch in the Cincinnati lineup and Pittsburgh's Freddy Sanchez -- despite a slow start -- has an All-Star pedigree.
The Cardinals have seen a bounce-back effort from Adam Kennedy and second basemen like Dan Uggla of the Marlins, Rickie Weeks of the Brewers, Luis Castillo of the Mets and Kazuo Matsui of the Astros are all capable of breaking loose offensively and raising their stock as potential All-Stars.
In the American League, young second basemen Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox and Jose Lopez of the Mariners are likely drawing the attention of the All-Star voters.
Pedroia has become a favorite of Boston players and fans after helping the team win the 2007 World Series. He was presented an award in early April for being named the 2007 Outstanding Rookie in the Players Choice Awards.
That honor from his peers made a big impression on Pedroia.
"I definitely respect the game and love playing the game," Pedroia said.
Boston manager Terry Francona has come to appreciate Pedroia as a true gamer.
"He's such a dangerous hitter," Francona said. "He knows how to play the game. All he tries to do when he shows up every day is win."
Pedroia was a .300 hitter through the first month of the '08 season, as was Lopez. Veteran Mark Grudzielanek of the Royals continues to help provide stability for a young ballclub and Ian Kinsler of the Rangers has been justifying the long-term financial commitment that the club made to him.
Brian Roberts of the Orioles, Aaron Hill of the Blue Jays and Brendan Harris of the Twins have posted solid numbers thus far, and American League second basemen such as Robinson Cano of the Yankees, Asdrubal Cabrera of the Indians and Placido Polanco of the Tigers are looking to overcome slow starts.
The 79th Midsummer Classic will be the fourth held at Yankee Stadium and the eighth in New York City. Fans can cast their votes for starters up to 25 times with the Monster All-Star Online Ballot at MLB.com and all 30 club sites until Wednesday, July 2, at 11:59 p.m. ET.
Starting rosters will be announced during the 2008 All-Star Game Selection Show presented by Chevrolet on TBS on Sunday, July 6. Baseball fans around the world will then be able to select the final player on each team via the Monster 2008 All-Star Final Vote at MLB.com.
The voting doesn't end there. Fans will have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevrolet at the All-Star Game via the Monster 2008 All-Star Game MVP vote at MLB.com.
The All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports and around the world by Major League Baseball International. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio play-by-play, while MLB.com will offer extensive online coverage.
Robert Falkoff is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.