Roughly 75% of all Philly natives have a crush on Chase Utley, regardless of gender or sexual preference. Apparently, I might, too, as hes #1 on this list.

Roughly 75% of all Philly natives have a crush on Chase Utley, regardless of gender or sexual preference. Apparently, I might, too, as he's #1 on this list.

Now that the playoff picture has pretty much all but taken its final shape, I have taken the liberty of removing any and all Twins or Braves from the remaining lists, so don’t be confused that the list stops at #8 as opposed to #10.  That being said, today we’re looking at the group of second basemen headed into the Divisional Series next week.  This is a group that is a good bit different from the first basemen in that some of these guys are really good, but you’ve never heard of them.  However, there is definitely more of a separation between the second basemen than their first base compadres.

1. Chase Utley, Phillies
I really had to look closely at both him and defending AL MVP Dustin Pedroia to determine which one is actually #1, but in the end it’s hard not to pick Utley because of what he means to the Philadelphia Phillies.  Utley has had another great offensive year as far as second basemen go, hitting .285 with 31 homers and 90 RBIs. He was named the starting 2B for the NL in the All-Star Game and is looking like he will win his 4th consecutive Silver Slugger Award.  He solidifies the middle of the Phils’ lineup with Ryan Howard and is probably the most popular man in the City of Brotherly Love. He also plays a solid defensive game, committing 12 errors in 153 games this season.

2. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
I’m probably going to receive several complaints about Pedroia not being #1 on this list, but there are two reasons for that.  First, Pedroia, unlike Utley, is a top of the batting order guy, along with teammate Jacoby Ellsbury and to put a guy who isn’t the focal point of the team ahead of Utley would be just wrong.  Second, his numbers aren’t as good as last year, as he’s hitting .298 with 13 homers and 68 RBIs, all of which are down from the previous year.  However, the number that stands out with Pedroia is 45 strikeouts in 615 at bats this season.  There’s a reason he’s known as a pest by opposing pitchers, and that’s exactly why.  There might not be a player in the league who will fight off more pitches in a two strike count than Pedroia, which makes him extremely valuable in a situation where Boston needs to advance a runner or get a runner in.  He’s also one of the best defensive second basemen in the league.  The 2008 Gold Glove Award winner, Pedroia has committed only 6 errors in 150 games for the Sox this year.

3. Robinson Cano, Yankees
After a down year in 2008, Cano has had a pretty big comeback year, as he is amongst the AL leaders in batting average, hitting .322 and also has 202 hits on the year, including a career-high 25 home runs.  Cano has been a frustrating player for Yankees fans, at times, however, as he has a tendency to get a little to flashy with the glove, which has caused him to make 12 errors in 158 games this year.  Cano also has the luxury of hitting in a lineup behind guys like A-Rod and Mark Teixeira, which is a solid explanation for the jump in his numbers in ’09.

4. Placido Polanco, Tigers
Polanco is one of the most underrated second basemen in the MLB every year.  Much like Dustin Pedroia, Polanco is extremely difficult to strike out, which he has only done 43 times in 599 at bats this season, making him in the very widely recognized stat category of at bats per strikeout for the third-consecutive year in the AL.  Polanco is also looking like the favorite to win his second career Gold Glove, as he has been stellar defensively all year, committing only 2 errors in 147 games for the Tigers.

5. Orlando Hudson, Dodgers
Hudson left the Arizona Diamondbacks after the 2008 season and was a player that was on a lot of teams’ wish list.  However, he didn’t sign until late in the free agent signing period with the LA Dodgers, but it hasn’t caused him to miss a beat in 2009.  The ’09 All-Star selection is having his best offensive season since ’06, which was his first year in Arizona, hitting .285, and is also just short of career highs in just about every major stat category.  The O-Dog also continues to play the position about as good as anyone in the Majors, committing only eight errors in 146 games, which puts him in position to be a candidate for his 4th career Gold Glove.

6. Howie Kendrick/Maicer Izturis, Angels
These two have spent the year splitting time at second base for the Halos, and their numbers are almost exactly the same.  Both are hitting right around .300 and lack power, but get on base a lot, which fits in nicely with Mike Scioscia’s overall strategy at the plate.  They have only committed 6 errors combined at 2B this year, as well, which would place them second in the AL behind Polanco if this were one player instead of two.

7. Skip Schumaker, Cardinals
Schumaker originally came up and looked like a super utility player for the Cards to hold onto.  However, Skip showed that he can hit in ’08 and has continued that through this season, hitting .303, which is important considering there are times when he bats in front of the pitcher, which explains his total lack of run production for the year with only 35 RBIs.  The permanency of him at second took a little while for him to adjust to defensively, as well, which explains his 9 errors in just 130 games at the position this year.

8. Clint Barmes, Rockies
Barmes looked like he was going to be the Next Big Thing after a great campaign in 2005.  However, after a disappointing ’06 and then a freak accident in the beginning of 2007, Barmes fell way off of everybody’s radar.  Now he’s working his way back at second base, rather than shortstop and has improved his power numbers, which is the norm for anyone on the Rockies, with career highs in home runs (23) and RBIs (76).  However, he is still only hitting .246 on the year for a team that could use a few more contact hitters in its lineup.  He’s also committed 12 errors in 136 games at the position, making him one of the weaker second basemen going into the playoffs.

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Red Sox Pitcher Jon Lester Pitches No-Hitter

By: Sean Speirs

As Boston Celtics fans had a sigh of relief this past weekend, Red Sox fans were witnessing poetry in motion.

 

Last night, 24-year-old Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester proved once again that he is not done pulling off miracles, as he threw a no-hitter against the Kansas City Royals in a 7-0 win at Boston’s Fenway Park.  Lester, who has a win-loss record of 3-2 and a 3.14 ERA, ended the night with nine strikeouts, two walks and one error with a total of 103 pitches thrown.

 Jon Lester Pitching Against Royals--MSNBC.com

Lester’s shut-out marked the 18th no-hitter in Red Sox history, which is the second most shutouts by any team. However, this accomplishment is not the only feat that this pitcher has pulled off in his life. 

 

In 2006, Lester was diagnosed with cancer, most notably a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  Throughout the following year, Lester continued to condition himself into proper pitching form as he was getting chemotherapy treatment.  With such dedication and multiple treatments, Lester conquered this rare disease, which was completely cured.

 

After a full recovery, the young lefty pitcher proved his true heart and strength to the fans of Boston last October, when he had his first Red Sox postseason start against the Colorado Rockies in Game 4 of the World Series.  Lester threw five shutout innings to win the game and seal another championship season for the Boson Red Sox.

 

In conjunction with Lester’s pitching streak against the Royals last night, much credit still goes to the rest of the Boston Red Sox team, as outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, shortstop Julio Lugo, and first-baseman Kevin Youkilis backed up Lester with impressive fielding plays that kept the shut-out game going.

 

Once Lester’s final pitch, clocked at 96 mph (the fastest pitch of the night), struck out Royals’ second-baseman Alberto Callaspo, the Red Sox team came together and lifted Lester in the air as fans congratulated him with a standing ovation that was ongoing since the seventh-inning.

 

While Lester puts down another astonishing achievement within his list of life accomplishments, this game will not only forever be remembered by Boston fans as another reason why the Boston Red Sox are “the best in the league”, but it will also be rightly viewed as an inspirational story for any athlete playing in a competitive sport while juggling life’s obstacles. 

 Lester after pitching no-hitter--YahooSports.com

According to columnist Jeff Passan, during the news conference after the game, Lester said, “I threw a couple [no-hitters] in high school…but [this] one is a little different.”

 

Little does he know, this game will never compare to any others he has pitched.  The road Lester had to endure to reach such a life career will be one of the top encouraging stories in sports history. 

 

If anything, Lester’s tale teaches those to never give up; something that all athletes need to understand when standing toe-to-toe with competition.

 

Sean Speirs

 

SportsZone Fact:  Unfortunately, for the Kansas City Royals, this is not the first time they have been told “no-no” from a pitcher.  Their first given shutout was delivered by pitcher Nolan Ryan in 1973 when he played for the California Angels.  That same no-hitter game was marked the first out of seven no-hitters Ryan will go on to pitch throughout his career.

 

Images Courtesy of MSNBC.COM and YAHOOSPORTS.COM