If the Phillies intend to go back to the World Series for a third time in four seasons, there is one element that has to improve in a hurry: Chase Utley and his vanishing power production.
In a 21-game stretch from August 26 through Thursday night's 6-1 loss to Washington, Utley is hitting .175 with one double, two triples, one homer and two RBI. He has struck out 12 times in 80 at-bats.
This season has continued an alarming trend in Utley's career.
Since posting a career-high .332 average during the 2007 season, the Phillies second baseman has seen a pretty sharp decline in his numbers. Utley hit .292 with 33 homers and 104 RBI in 2008, .282 with 31 homers and 93 RBI in 2009, .275 with 16 homers and 65 RBI during an injury-shortened 2010 and now .257 with 10 homers and 41 RBI during a limited 2011 campaign that saw him miss the first two months of the regular season.
"The last three years, Chase has missed a lot of games, and I think it has taken its toll on him," manager Charlie Manuel said. "I think that it is hard for him to do a lot of conditioning on his legs, and that is a very important part of hitting. His balance and his backside have to stay strong, and he's always had a strong core. I think that what you see is that once he plays a lot, he'll be OK."
Utley is seeking the answers that are eluding him right now at the plate. There's also a sense that luck is playing an important factor as well.
"We're going through a little funk, I guess you can say," Utley said. "I don't think that the ball is bouncing in our favor all of the time. But through the course of a season, things like this are bound to happen. It's better to happen now than in the playoffs."
Notes and Quotes...
- Ryan Howard is expected to return to the lineup Friday night as the Phillies begin a six-game road trip to New York and Atlanta to end the season. Howard was given a cortisone shot in his left ankle Monday to alleviate some of the bursitis that has limited his ability to run during the second half of the season.
- Hunter Pence sat for a third consecutive game thanks to a left patellar tendon strain suffered in the first inning of the first game of Tuesday's doubleheader against the Nationals. "It's feeling better," Pence said before Thursday night's game. "I think I'm available (to pinch-hit)." After the game, in which Pence didn't play, manager Charlie Manuel said that he expected Pence to return to the lineup Saturday, and that Pence would play the final five games of the season to get ready for the playoffs.
- Carlos Ruiz had his fourth three-hit game of the season Thursday night. Ruiz has enjoyed a strong finish to the season, hitting .354 with two homers and 12 RBI over his last 28 games.
- Domonic Brown - considered to be among the top prospects in the team's minor league system - does not figure to get any starts in Philadelphia's last six games of the regular season. "We want him to go to the instructional league and get some work in," manager Charlie Manuel said. In an interview with Comcast SportsNet, GM Ruben Amaro JR. said that Brown would not make the postseason roster unless an injury occurred at some point along the way.
- According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Phillies became the first team since the 1904 New York Giants to lose six straight games immediately after winning their 98th game of the season. That Giants team didn't win the World Series -- because there was no series due to a disagreement with the American League that season.
The Numbers game...
0-for-36 - The combined numbers of SS Jimmy Rollins, CF Shane Victorino and 2B Chase Utley in the series against the Nationals. Philadelphia lost all four games.
He said what?
"Obviously, there's something we need to do differently. We need to find it out soon. We've got six games (left) to figure it out." - Shane Victorino, regarding the Phillies' six-game losing streak.