For the first time in his career, Chase Utley, an MVP candidate before having his hand broken, heard the faintest grumbles of disapproval during the National League Division Series. He will be redeemed.
One of the joys of reaching the post-season was to see how Utley, one of the all-time great competitors, would perform on a bigger stage. After one go-round, the answer was "wretchedly." Utley went 3-11 (.182) with five strikeouts, picking the worst possible time to become invisible. He was kept wildly off-balance by Game 1 starter Jeff Francis and never regained his footing.
None of this can sit well with the 29-year-old lion, who, in all likelihood, would have won the National League MVP if it hadn’t been for having his hand broken, the worst of 25 total plunks last season, shattering the club record of 19 set by Dave Hollins. Despite missing a month, he set a club record with 49 doubles. The NL record is 64.
Twenty years from now, when we look back at Utley's career, he will dethrone Richie Ashburn as the franchise’s most cherished all-around player. Although the importance of batting average has diminished during the Moneyball era, I’m delighted to see a Phillie right there among the league leaders. What a swing; there’s no other swing like it in baseball. And no second baseman can sniff the potency of his overall contribution.
We spend too much time sweating the BS minutiae, the 25th man, the sixth inning. Frankly, a team with Utley, who's contract status is that of a bottomless cup of coffee, will always have a great chance to win. People are already talking about the possibility of a Phillies MVP three-peat and you won’t find an argument here.
By way of an early season preview, Chase will have a monster season and become the league's most valuable player.