In the ever dimming 2012 season for the Phillies, there is at least a slight glimmer of hope peeking out from beneath the rubble. In the team's 2-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Saturday night, Chase Utley hit his fifth home run since returning from injury, giving fans some hope that he can be a key contributor in 2013 and beyond.
We still don't know whether or not that will be the case, but right now, Utley looks like, well… Chase Utley. He now owns a .247/.340/.481 slash-line so far, and is hitting the ball to all fields, and hitting the ball hard.That could be the most important factor in all of this. At times late in 2011, he looked sluggish and beaten down. With some time off and proper treatment, Utley's knees look like they have undergone a miracle. But alas, there is no miracle here, just some hard work and the right doctors.
Utley told the Philadelphia Inquirer that "every day has been a positive" and that he "hasn't slowed down and gone backwards at all." It's encouraging to hear that from Utley, because with so much negativity surrounding the team in 2012, plenty of people have already looked ahead to how he can help the team at second base in 2013.
When he did come back, there were plenty of concerns that the 33-year-old Utley would be unable to perform at a high level, or at least the level that Phillies fans have grown accustomed to. He's proven a lot of people wrong so far. He is signed through next season at $15 million, another high-priced salary that the Phillies have to handle, but it's no concern. There is no doubting that the Phillies will handle that high salary, because Utley is worth every penny, and when he signed the deal, it was looked at as a pretty even deal for both sides. That deal was signed in early 2007, and since then, Utley has been one of baseball's premier second basemen, injuries aside.
His relatively low BABIP would also tell us that his luck will probably turn around soon, even though it's a small sample size. According to Fangraphs, his line drive rate is up heavily from 2011. The question now becomes whether or not he can sustain taht.
With the All-Star Break past us, and the Phillies having an off-day Thursday and another one this coming Monday, Utley is getting all the time off he needs. The team was hesitant to play him in three straight games at first, but Utley has forced his way into the lineup, because, let's face it, there's no other option for the team at second base. Even with Utley, however, the Phillies have continued to falter, now 11 games under .500. It's likely that the team's trade deadline sale-a-thon will begin Sunday and continue into Tuesday.
If there's one thing the Phillies can take some solace in during this 2012 season, it's that Chase Utley looks like Chase Utley.
Sources: Fangraphs, Philadelphia Inquirer
Victor Filoromo is a featured contributor for Yahoo! and also contributes to PhuturePhillies.com, a Phillies' prospect blog. He grew up just outside of Philadelphia, and enjoys Philadelphia sports, media, and politics.