Saturday, June 11, 2011

Polly & Chase

Placido Polanco has to be the most quiet MVP ever seen in these parts. I cannot recall the last time a sound bite featured the Phils' superb third baseman. Has Polly ever been seen pitching a local product? How many "authentic" jerseys bearing his number can be seen in the stands? Do youngsters imitate the calisthenics he performs before standing in the batter's box?

The answers to all these questions are, of course, a steady beat of NO's, which in a way is emblematic of Polanco. He is steady, at times spectacular with the glove, but never flashy. Yet one would be hard-pressed to find another Phillie who draws more admiring comments from broadcasters and fans. You need a runner moved along? Polly's your man. You need sure defense? Take a bow, Mr. Polanco. Do you mind if we bat you fifth instead of second or third? No problem.

Just your garden-variety pro.

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Another fellow about whom many of the above things can be said is Chase Utley. His play last night in which he clearly blocked second base with his need to prevent a steal at a crucial time in the game drew deserved praise from TV commentators. It was just the sort of heads-up play that has become routine with Utley.

Despite his always alert game-awareness, however, Utley is not the player he was a year or two ago and nowhere is this more evident than his batting. He isn't putting good swings on the ball any longer; indeed, he seems to be slapping at anything middle out and getting badly fooled on balls breaking down and in. He looks unsettled and uncomfortable at the plate. Some of this may be the time he lost preparing for the season; for Utley it is still late Spring. Some of it may be the result of his injuries, which might have altered the way he pivots and pushes off on his troubled knee.

Whatever the explanation, his legendary short stroke is turning into a halting slap stroke in which he appears badly fooled but manages to get enough wood on the ball to punch it to the opposite side. At a time when the Phillies are desperate for offense, Utley's decline is troubling.

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