Chase Utley is hitting .247 with four home runs and 13 RBIs in 22 games for the Phillies this season. (Philliedelphia/Kevin Durso)
When Chase Utley returned with a bang on June 27, it appeared to be the start of great things for the Phillies. But in Utley's first two weeks back, the Phillies lost 10 of 11 games.
Now, with an 8-4 record since the All-Star Break, the impact of Utley is starting to take shape.
Last season, Utley didn't make much of an impact after returning from injury. In 103 games, Utley posted career lows in home runs (11), RBIs (44) and batting average (.259).
Utley's average is actually lower this season (.257) to this point, but he is on pace to finally break those lacking power numbers. He has four home runs in his first month of the season and 13 RBIs.
In the most recent stretch of wins, Utley has had a couple of key plate appearances. He walked in both Monday and Tuesday night's comebacks. More importantly, his health appears to be well based on some of the plays he's made.
His baserunning is still among the best in the game. He reads the ball tremendously off the bat, and can make things happen. This was never more evident than on Monday. When Ryan Howard singled with the bases loaded, Utley scampered to third to set up a sac fly chance to tie the game.
Utley's defense is still solid as well. In Wednesday's comeback, Utley made a basket catch on Aramis Ramirez. Carlos Gomez scored on the sac fly, but Utley saved at least one more run.
Ryan Braun was running on the play, meaning if the ball was dropped, he would have advanced to third with one out. Utley's catch got the Phillies a very important second out, limiting the damage and giving the Phillies a chance. In the end, Utley deserves a small piece of credit for that win.
Just the meer presence of guys like Utley and Howard in the lineup have made a big difference to the way the Phillies' lineup is approached in the late innings. And it's been a lot tougher on opponents.
That could go a long way down the stretch. Additionally, it could mean a whole lot for Utley. Utley's contract is due to expire after the 2013 season. Many think Utley is suited for a DH role in the American League.
But do the Phillies actually need him as much as they needed to lock up guys like Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz? I'll have a follow-up post on that tomorrow.