Utley Becoming Phils' MVP

After being the Phillies first round pick in the 2000 Draft, Chase Utley has pretty much followed a path that was predicted for him. It's not often that happens - especially in the Phillies organization - but it's happening with Utley and paying big dividends.

If you are choosing the most valuable player in the Phillies' lineup for the season, it is becoming obvious that Chase Utley is the guy.

Utley, who spent the first two months of the season biting his lip as he and Placido Polanco split time, has been playing with a fury ever since Polanco was traded to Detroit in early June. Utley's refusal to get into any sort of war of words over his early season platoon showed a high level of maturity. After all, Utley had all but been handed the job during the off-season, only to have it yanked away when Polanco started on opening day.

Thursday night at Coors Field Utley kept the fire burning, driving in a career-high five runs with two doubles and his 15th home run of the season as the Phillies overcame the bullpen blowing a three-run lead by scoring three runs in the top of the ninth to knock off the lowly Rockies, 8-5. Utley has consistently been in the middle of Phillies rallies this season, something that he has shown an ability to do since he launched a grand slam homerun in his major league debut in 2003.

Utley's RBI outburst against the Rockies raised his RBI total for July to 21 in 23 games. And if you seek consistency from a player, it's tough to find many players who have been steadier than him. Since June 1 Utley's average had hovered between .302 and .319 - no higher, no lower.

"Right now Chase is doing a big-time job for us," manager Charlie Manuel said after his team bounced back from its three-game sweep at the hands of the Astros. "Especially in the second half he has gotten some big-time hits for us. He stays cool and knows how to play."

"The thing you try to do is stay out of long slumps," Utley said.

In some respects, the Phillies are lucky to have Utley in their organization. The Dodgers made him their second round pick in 1997 when Utley was just 18 years old. He decided against signing then and went on to put up big numbers at UCLA until the Phillies took him three drafts later.

If anything went off schedule, it was only because the Phillies somewhat played around with Utley and when and how they wanted to use him. He spent what turned out to be an extra season at AAA learning to play third base, only to move back to second base. He also had trouble breaking the Phillies lineup because of Larry Bowa's hesitancy to use young players. Then came the split playing time with Polanco this season as Utley again waited for his chance to be an everyday player.

Now, Utley isn't just the starting second baseman, he's a key part of the Phillies lineup. His defense has progressed well and his offense has been even better than some scout might have guessed. To say the least, Utley is also becoming a fan favorite thanks to his consistent and hard-nosed play on the field.

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