Utley an early NL MVP candidate

Utley an early NL MVP candidate

PHILADELPHIA -- If Chase Utley wasn't forced to miss an entire month with an injured hand last season, he likely would have challenged teammate Jimmy Rollins for the National League Most Valuable Player Award.

Through the first month of the 2008 season, Utley is challenging the whole league.

With Rollins on the disabled list with a sprained left ankle, Utley carried the Phillies to a 15-13 record, their first winning April since '03. He very well could be on the way to giving the Phillies their third straight NL MVP following Ryan Howard in '06 and Rollins last season.

"He's the best hitter in baseball now," said Padres right-hander Chris Young, who gave up a two-run homer to Utley on Wednesday. "If you're going to give up hits, you're better off giving them up to the best."

Entering Thursday's game, Utley was leading the NL in homers (11), multi-hit games (15), extra-base hits (22) and slugging percentage (.766). He has also reached base in 21 straight games and 27 of 28. Over his past 14 games, Utley is hitting .411 with eight home runs and 14 RBIs.

If he keeps up this pace, he'll almost certainly finish a whole lot higher than eighth in the MVP voting.

"The thing about Chase is it doesn't matter if he's facing a lefty or a righty," said Padres left-hander Randy Wolf, who was 69-60 with a 4.21 ERA for the Phillies from 1999-2006. "He's as tough on lefty pitchers as he is on righty pitchers. He's just a tough out. He stays in there and always manages to get a good swing on the ball, which is rare."

Utley is fifth in the NL with a .360 average and tied for seventh in RBIs with 23.

"He's a special player with the way he hits," Phillies shortstop Eric Bruntlett said. "I've been amazed with his play since I got here."

Andy Jasner is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.