Dodgers wise to chase pennant with Utley
Phillies icon has been a postseason hero, and he still has plenty left in the tank
LOS ANGELES -- Chase Utley makes perfect sense for the Dodgers. It is the classic low-risk, high-reward late-season move. If his right ankle holds up, Utley can win games with his bat and his glove, and with his quiet, confident presence.
No, Utley can't help the bullpen get outs in front of Kenley Jansen. But this is one of the premier players of his generation. In the starting lineup or off the bench, Utley is potentially a game- and season-changer.
With an inflated payroll and expectations to match, the Dodgers have shown they can win from April through September. October has been the cruelest month. It's a month Utley has owned.
The proud franchise hasn't celebrated a World Series championship since 1988, and Los Angeles has had an air of desperation in the wake of getting knocked out of the postseason the past two years by the Cardinals.
There might as well be a turnstile at their clubhouse door given how many players have come and gone at Dodger Stadium in search of the magic formula.
Over the offseason, the Dodgers imported stability in proven winner Jimmy Rollins. Now they have paired the shortstop with his old buddy in the heart of a Phillies infield that anchored the 2008 World Series champions and other powerhouse teams of the era.
This is no desperation move. At the expense of prospects Darnell Sweeney, a good athlete, and John Richy, a pitcher, it's a sensible swap for the Dodgers as well as the Phillies, who are in restructuring mode.
With the National League Central loaded, the Dodgers might have to fend off the defending World Series champion Giants in the West to earn a postseason ticket. Utley, who was reportedly coveted by San Francisco in Joe Panik's absence, could be the Dodgers' answer to the pivotal pickup of Marco Scutaro by the Giants during their 2012 title drive.
It remains to be seen how much Utley will play. The Dodgers have one of game's best second basemen in Howie Kendrick. When Kendrick returns -- presumably sometime next month -- from a left hamstring injury, he will play.
If that sends Utley to the bench, the Dodgers will have a man capable of deciding games with one swing. The most memorable postseason at-bat in franchise history came from a pinch-hitter: Kirk Gibson, in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. Utley was 9 years old at the time, a SoCal kid who attended one of those World Series games at Dodger Stadium.
Adding a hot hitter to plug into Kendrick's spot returns Kiké Hernandez, one of the club's most valuable players, to the all-purpose role he doesn't favor. But Kiké burns to win, and he'll do what's best for his team.
Since coming off the disabled list on Aug. 7, and with his right ankle fully healed, Utley has been raking, collecting 15 hits in 31 at-bats. He can fit anywhere in the lineup, but he's an ideal No. 2 hitter behind Rollins, who has been surging after a sluggish start.
Kendrick was flourishing in the No. 2 hole when he strained his hamstring.
"Howie is my guy," Rollins said, "and Chase was my guy for a long time. There's a lot of trust there, with both of them."
Few have performed as brilliantly as Utley under pressure. He owns 10 homers and 25 RBIs in 46 postseason games with a .902 OPS, and he has gone deep seven times with 12 RBIs in 11 World Series games -- numbers even Reggie Jackson would envy.
Skeptics will point out that Utley, at 36, is past his prime. More reflective of Utley's worth than his .217 batting average this year is his .282/.366/.481 career line. Torii Hunter, a contemporary with Utley's drive and commitment to conditioning, has enjoyed three of his most productive seasons since turning 36.
The Dodgers drafted Utley in the second round in 1997 out of Long Beach Poly High School, but he chose to attend UCLA. For long-suffering Dodgers faithful, it's a clear case of better late than never.