May 30, 2011

The Chase Utley effect.

Chase Utley returned to the Philadelphia Phillies lineup on Monday, May 23. Since then, they are 5-2, scoring 44 runs and making mincemeat out of the Cincinnati Reds and New York Mets.

Coincidence? Probably. I wrote about the Phillies' hitting woes recently and noted that fans shouldn't worry too much. They'd been gross at the plate for a while, but there's too much talent around for the bats to be painfully quiet all year. An offensive explosion like this was sort of inevitable.

But I do think Chase's return helps. It has to be a comforting sight to see no. 26 manning second base, especially when the other options have been Pete Orr, Michael Martinez and pitcher extraordinaire Wilson Valdez. If Utley's really the kind of player that leads by example, then his mere presence on the field should pay dividends.

For a while there, it seemed like Chase wouldn't even play in 2011; there was talk of Grady Sizemore-esque knee surgery that would keep him out for months, if not a year. Would the team pursue Michael Young and his gigantic contract? Was it a mistake not to trade Roy Oswalt in the offseason for a bat, any bat, to fill a now-obvious gaping hole in the lineup?

But he's back, and while there's the occasional glimpse of gimpiness, he's allowing Phillies fans to believe that his old self is right around the corner, that the should-be Gold Glover and Silver Slugger we've grown to love hasn't disappeared after a good chunk of time lost to the bum knee and hip.

Coming into Monday's game with Washington, Chase is 5 for 21 with a homer. Nothing spectacular, but Charlie Manuel is on record as saying he likes what he sees. His year is just beginning, and if the past few have been any indication, maybe such a late start is a good thing.

To the naked eye, Utley seems to break down a bit at the end of every season; that's kind of an inevitability with how hard he plays. But after 50 games on the sidelines, resting not only the knee but the other nagging ailments that bother any baseball player on the other side of 30, could Utley destroy the final 100 games and truly revive the Phillies offense? I wouldn't put it past him.

And by the way, I just traded for him in fantasy baseball. It's fair to say I'm all-in on Chase Utley's well-being, and the Phillies are, too.

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