Out of Left Field: Hail To The Chase

After huge hits in two consecutive weekend victories over the Brewers, Larry Bowa said that he had "run out of adjectives" to describe Utley. Well, Larry, I'd settle for a noun at this point. How about "starter"? At the risk of sounding like a broken record, or at the very least becoming Chairman of the Chase Utley for President movement, I'd just like to know – again - what Utley needs to do to start in this town.

Last December I wrote that I thought Utley and Placido Polanco had the potential to be a better second base platoon than Mickey Morandini and Mariano Duncan in 1993. In January, I provided three scenarios in which Utley could remain with the big club out of spring training even after the signing of Doug Glanville (foolish, no?). In March, I became convinced that Utley needed to start the year at Scranton to ensure he got enough playing time, writing: "His future with this club hinges on whether the Phillies want to commit long-term to Placido Polanco."

In May, that question seemed to be answered when Polanco went to the disabled list and the Phillies recalled Utley, who responded with 16 RBI in his first twelve games. Utley's recall happened to coincide with a happy resurgence in the Phillies offense as they overtook first place in the Eastern Division (the good old days.) But, when Polanco returned from the disabled list, he was installed back in the starting lineup at the expense of the more productive (and second baseman of the future) Utley.

In July, it was the worst kept secret in the world that the Phillies were shopping Placido Polanco for some pitching help, or a centerfielder. It was just a matter of time until Utley was reinstalled as the long-term second baseman. However, when the dust settled, there was Polanco, still in Phillies pinstripes and still taking playing time away from Utley. To be fair, Utley slumped in June and dropped his batting average below .250, and he has not hit lefthanders consistently all season. All he has done is improve his defense and play wherever the Phillies have asked: second base, third base, first base, pinch hitter. He even gave left field a shot after Pat Burrell went down.

In July and August, he raised his batting average over 25 points to the high .270's, while hitting 6 homeruns, and driving in 25 runners. His season total of 51 RBI, in just a little over 200 at bats, would average out to make him the most prolific run producer on the team - if he got starter's time. During the same time frame, Polanco has raised his average from .259 to the low .270's, while hitting 7 homers and driving in 18 runners - good, but lower numbers in nearly twice as many at-bats as Utley. So again, I ask, what does Utley need to do?

This is the most glaring indictment of Larry Bowa and Ed Wade's philosophies - the Bowade syndrome. Bowa will always defer to the veteran player over the youngster to the detriment of the team. It's why he continued to run Roberto Hernandez out there instead of Ryan Madson early in the season, and it's why he continues to play Polanco over the more productive Utley. Wade, for his part, condones these actions, even providing Bowa semi-excuses not to play Utley everyday by trading away the only other left-handed power bat on the team – Ricky Ledee - with no apparent backup plan.

Do you want to know who else wouldn't have gotten playing time under the Bowade syndrome? Marty Bystrom, Bob Walk, Kevin Stocker to name a few. Each of those guys were youngsters who were called up and produced at a critical time in Phillies history. The Bowade syndrome is the same malaise (in a different strain) that led us to the "Wheeze Kids" in 1983, depleting our farm system by trading prospects for players at the end of their careers, thus ensuring that the city would sniff the post season exactly once over the following 20 plus years. Three minor leaguers for Cory Lidle? Are you kidding me? I had to check twice to make sure we hadn't included Julio Franco and Ryne Sandberg in that deal. But, I digress.

It seems Utley's biggest limiting factor at this point is that he hits from the left side of the plate. That's it. Bowa doesn't seem to see anyway to work that as a strength. If he starts him, he has to figure out how to split up Abreu, Thome, and Utley, so the other team can't counter with a left-handed reliever in the late innings. If he starts him, he also has no strong left-handed bat off the bench. When did it become more important to have a left-hander available to pinch hit than to have a proven run producer in your starting lineup?

Wade did nothing to help Bowa through this brain-twister when he traded Ledee and brought up Marlon Byrd, and then Lou Collier, two right-handed hitters. I can't explain why Wade ignored the glaring need to add another left-handed bat to the bench; especially considering Mark Budzinski and Jim Rushford are both having decent seasons at Scranton. I also hear talk of some other left-handed power hitter at AAA who we may see in September, after falling to 30 games out.

I'm calling for a congressional inquiry into this matter. I think a bipartisan commission should be set-up. We should recall Bowa and Wade; Hail to the Chase!

DN Curry comes to you Out of Left Field every Thursday at PhillyBaseballNews.com. You can email him at dncurry@comcast.net .

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