Sarah's Take: Coming around on Utley trade
Since the Dodgers acquired Chase Utley from the Phillies, they have had more enthusiastic play.
When the trade occurred, I wasn't excited about it. After all, Utley is 36 years old and has been plagued with various leg injuries in recent years. The Dodgers didn't appear to need another second baseman.
Howie Kendrick, with a history of hamstring problems, already had strained his hamstring and was on the disabled list when Utley arrived. In Kendrick's absence, Kiké Hernandez played a superb second base and contributed to the offense often and well. With the acquisition of Utley, it appeared the Dodgers would decrease Hernandez's playing time, and it would affect the team adversely.
The Dodgers and manager Don Mattingly had other ideas, using Hernandez as a fantastic utility player until Monday, when he was forced to go on the disabled list with a pulled hamstring.
In August, Hernandez hit .353. While playing second, he tried to stop every ground ball that was close to him, and this helped the pitching staff conserve pitches and prevent scoring opportunities. However, since June, Joc Pederson has been mired in a horrendous slump, so Hernandez had been playing center field a lot lately. Although his defense wasn't as thrilling as Pederson's, he was adequate. Now the Dodgers have a weaker offense with Hernandez on the DL.
The Phillies wanted to trade Utley to give their young middle infielders a chance to play every day. Many thought he was heading for San Francisco, since lower back inflammation put the return of Giants second baseman Joe Panik this season in doubt. With both Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence out for a significant amount of time, the Giants were in need of a boost on offense that Utley could have provided.
Few expected the Dodgers would obtain Utley, putting their payroll at $300 million. But they did. Since he has played for his hometown team, he has done everything well and brought some enthusiasm.
Utley has played with Jimmy Rollins for the past 12 seasons. During that time, they developed incredible communication around the second-base bag, and this has been evident while with the Dodgers. Although the double-play duo of Kendrick and Rollins was terrific, watching Utley and Rollins around the second-base bag is unbelievable, and it reminds me of 2004, when Alex Cora and Cesar Izturis appeared to be kittens playing with a ball of yarn.
Although the Dodgers have been no-hit twice since Utley has joined the team, he has helped the offense be more productive. His legs are healthy, so he takes chances on the basepaths. This has helped the Dodgers to manufacture runs, an aspect of the game that has been lacking for the entire season. It seems whenever his team needs a hit, Utley delivers.