MVP voting confirms Utley as most underrated

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During his amazing playoff run last month I penned a lengthy article about Chase Utley being the most underrated player in baseball, writing: “Many media members and fans seem to think of him as merely a very good player rather than a truly great one.”
Part of my evidence for Utley being significantly underrated was his poor showings in past MVP balloting and with the latest votes revealed yesterday we now know that this season was no different.
Utley finished eighth overall while receiving just five top-five votes and was completely absent on 14 of 32 ballots. In other words, 27 of the 32 voters didn’t think Utley was among the five best players in the league this season and 14 of the 32 voters didn’t even think he was among the 10 best.
All of which is baffling considering that Utley hit .282/.397/.508 with 31 homers, 63 total extra-base hits, 88 walks, 93 RBIs, and 112 runs in 156 games while going a perfect 23-for-23 swiping bases and also played Gold Glove-caliber defense at an up-the-middle position.
He had a remarkable all-around season and not surprisingly Fan Graphs pegged Utley as being worth 77 runs more than a replacement-level player based on his offensive and defensive contributions. That total ranked second in the entire league behind only Albert Pujols at 84 runs, yet Utley received no second-place votes, only a handful of voters recognized him as a top-five player, and nearly half the ballots failed to even include his name. And the amazing thing is that this is nothing new.
Based on runs above replacement level Utley also ranked as the league’s second-best player in both 2007 and 2008, yet finished No. 8 and No. 14 in the MVP balloting. And in both 2005 and 2006 he ranked as the league’s fourth-best player while finishing No. 13 and No. 7 in the voting. In his five full seasons Utley has been second, second, second, fourth, and fourth among all NL position players in runs above replacement level, yet he’s never finished higher than seventh in the MVP balloting.
What makes the lack of respect shown to Utley particularly confusing is that he’s a hugely popular player on a tremendously successful large-market team. He’s not thriving in obscurity for some last-place, low-budget team, he’s putting up huge numbers for the back-to-back NL champs in the country’s sixth-largest city. Heck, two different Phillies have won MVPs with Utley as a teammate, so clearly a lack of attention for the team isn’t to blame.
MVP ballots were sent in long before Utley’s playoff heroics, so perhaps his big October this season will lead to more support from voters in 2010. In the meantime, Utley retains his title as the most underrated player in baseball for at least another year.

Red Sox even ALCS 1-1, defeat Astros 7-5 in Game 2

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Game 2 of the ALCS, held Sunday night in Boston, was a play in three parts. For the first three innings, it was a back-and-forth affair between the offenses of the Red Sox and Astros. The middle three innings involved both team’s pitching staffs calming things down. The final third of the game saw the Red Sox add insurance. Ultimately, the Red Sox went on to win 7-4 to even the ALCS at one game apiece.

The Red Sox opened the scoring in the bottom of the first inning, with Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers hitting RBI singles off of a shaky Gerrit Cole. The Astros returned the salvo in the top of the second against David Price as George Springer fisted a double that just barely stayed fair down the right field line to plate two runs to tie the game. Marwin González broke the 2-2 tie in the top of the third, turning on an inside cut fastball for a two-run homer over the Green Monster. In the bottom half of the third, the Red Sox put together a rally, loading the bases with one out. After Ian Kinsler struck out, Jackie Bradley, Jr. drilled an opposite-field double off of the Monster with the carom taking left fielder Marwin González back towards the infield, allowing all three runs to score, putting the Red Sox back on top at 5-4.

Price, whose postseason woes are well-publicized, pitched better than his line indicated. He was on the hook for four runs on five hits with four walks and four strikeouts. His counterpart, Cole, went six frames, on the hook for five runs (four earned) on six hits and a pair of walks with five strikeouts.

Once Price was out of the game, Matt Barnes got four outs with nary a scrape. Ryan Brasier worked around a two-out walk in the seventh for a scoreless frame. In the bottom half of the seventh, facing Lance McCullers, Jr., Mookie Betts led off with a walk. As Benintendi struck out, Betts moved to second base on a wild pitch. During J.D. Martinez‘s at-bat, Martín Maldonado allowed a passed ball, which gave Betts the opportunity to move to third base. Martinez struck out, but Maldonado was unable to handle a pitch from reliever Josh James, so Betts ran home to score a crucial insurance run.

Rick Porcello took over in the eighth, setting down Tony Kemp, González, and Carlos Correa in 1-2-3 fashion, striking out the latter two. In the bottom half of the eighth, Betts added yet another insurance run with an RBI double to right-center.

Kimbrel has had a rough postseason thus far, giving up a run in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Yankees followed by two more in Game 4. Those struggles continued on Sunday. He got Evan Gattis to pop up, then struck out Josh Reddick. So far, so good. Unfortunately for Kimbrel, Springer poked a double to left field, then advanced to third base on a wild pitch while José Altuve batted. Altuve then ripped a single off of the Monster to bring the tying run to the plate in the form of Alex Bregman. Mercifully, for the Red Sox and their fans, Kimbrel got Bregman to fly out to Benintendi just in front of the Monster in deep left field.

David Price’s team won a postseason game he started for the first time. This was his 10th postseason start and he had been 0-8 with one no-decision.

With the ALCS tied up at one game each, the Red Sox and Astros will take Monday off to travel to Houston. Game 3 is slated for a 5:09 PM ET start on Tuesday. The Red Sox haven’t yet named a starter but the Astros will go with Dallas Keuchel.