Chase Utley is giving the Phillies way more than they could have imagined this season. For a guy with chronic knee problems who has missed 185 games over the past three seasons, just having him on the field is a huge success. The fact that he is hitting .271 with 7 home runs, 24 RBI, and an .823 OPS is icing on the cake.
But he also has been really weird this season. Utley is a bit of an awkward dude to begin with, but his play on the field has never been weird. Utley has always been an ultra-focused player who works the count, makes great decisions, plays fairly sound defense, and runs the bases well. But not this season.
Last night was a great example. With no outs in the first inning, Utley hit a double and considered going to third before throwing on the breaks...then changing his mind and getting thrown out. He broke the cardinal rule: never make the first or third out at third base. Later in the game, he had a chance to easily throw out a runner at the plate but hurried his thrown and air mailed it to Ruiz.
Those are not the only two blunders of Utley's 2013 season.
Two of those blunders came in consecutive games. The first one was definitely the weirdest. In the April 20th game against the Cardinals, a ball was hit to Utley's left and he broke...to the right. I was watching the game with my dad and we just kind of looked at each other with blank stares and no words - what can you say about a play like that? I would still like to know the answer to that one.
The following evening, in a Sunday night game on ESPN, Utley forgot the number of outs. With one out and Utley at second, Michael Young hit a routine fly ball. Chase, thinking there were two outs, took off at the crack of the bat with no hesitation and was easily doubled off second.
Three days later came possibly the worst mistake. Down by one in the ninth, Chase dropped a two-out blooper down the right field line with two outs, allowing a huge insurance run to score for the Pirates. It would have been a fairly tough over-the-head play, but the issue is why he dropped it. The replay clearly showed he took his eyes off the ball, tried to unnecessarily make a basket catch, and chose not use both hands. In a word, he appeared nonchalant.
I will acknowledge right away that I am nitpicking at one of the most focused ballplayers I have ever seen. My point is not to pile on Chase. I mention this because it reveals a much deeper concern for the team as a whole.
It is quite possible Utley's knees are sapping his energy, or that he is thinking about free agency, or that he is worried about a trade. Heck, maybe it is his baby's fault.
But Chase's transgressions could also indicate that he is trying to make up for the players around him, or that Charlie has lost the team, or that the team's lack of energy is bringing him down. Whatever the case, Utley's brain farts are few of the host of problems with the 2013 Phillies. This Phillies team is lacking in personality, chemistry...and talent.
The Phillies have been shutout 5 times. Their offense ranks 11th in runs scored in the NL. They have lost five of Hamels' last 6 games in which he allowed just 11 runs. They have the third worst ERA in the league, the fifth worst starting staff, and the fifth worst bullpen. The Phillies are 3-7 in one-run games and 2-6 in two-run games. They are unable to plate runners in scoring position.
These are all signs that the end is near - Chase Utley and the Phillies know it. I hope Utley's mistakes and the team's lack of energy will bring them all together for a final push. But the first 37 games suggest otherwise.
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