Chase Utley Is The Man, Part 1,334

Chase Utley Is The Man, Part 1,334

Todd Zolecki for MLB.com labeled him the “hottest hitter on the planet” on Monday. CSNPhilly.com’s Corey Seidman called this “the best two-week stretch” of the 12th-year veteran’s career.

Around here, we usually just refer to him as “The Man.”

Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley has been tearing the cover off of the ball through the first 10 games of 2014. His .500 batting average, .565 on-base percentage, .875 slugging percentage and 1.440 OPS are all tops in the Majors. He’s on pace to set career highs in doubles and home runs, granted the season is still very young.

For the first time in years, Utley is once again the lifeblood of the Phillies’ lineup. Has he found the fountain of youth? Was he ever mere mortal to begin with?

This time last year, there was quite the debate over whether the organization should even re-sign the five-time All Star. With diminishing production and a set of bad knees that sidelined the 35-year-old for long stretches, to many Utley symbolized yet more clinging to the aging core that last appeared in a World Series in ‘09.

Then the welcome unexpected happened. Not only did Utley’s knees hold up through spring training after costing him the starts of two consecutive seasons. His numbers actually rose to 2010 levels, his last All-Star season.

Granted, it wasn’t ’05-09 Utley. .284/.348/.475/.823 was one of the better lines for a Major League second baseman in ’13 though, and certainly enough to warrant the team-friendly two-year contract extension to keep a fan favorite in red pinstripes.

For what it’s worth, general manager Ruben Amaro always maintained there was never any debate internally. And how is Utley rewarding the franchise’s loyalty?

Only by enjoying one of the most torrid starts to a season in Phillies history.

It’s early. Utley will undoubtedly fall back down to earth at some point soon, because that’s baseball. He’s not going to chase Ted Williams’ .400 (I don’t think). He’s not going to hit the 96 doubles or 48 homers he’s currently on pace for.

His start almost does make you wonder though, even if it’s only that tiny voice in the back of your mind: have we actually seen the best of Chase Utley yet? Or, implausible as it sounds, is the best still to come?

The man is healthy for the first time in years. Nobody in the business works or studies harder. His classic short, compact swing never goes out of style.

Through 10 games, Utley is swinging the bat as if he might have one truly great season left in the tank, maybe more. Even if that’s not the case, it’s been fun watching him pile up numbers like the old Utley these first two weeks.

That alone has been worth the extension.

Utley is proving that just because everybody on the planet agrees a team needed to tear down and begin rebuilding two years ago, there are exceptions. The Phillies weren’t going to find a better example for the young players in their clubhouse, or a more beloved player in the city/better representative for the franchise.

Apparently, they aren’t going to find a better second baseman anytime soon, either.

Shocker: Phillies interested in getting one of baseball's best players

Shocker: Phillies interested in getting one of baseball's best players

We're all looking forward to the free-agent class of 2018.

If Maikel Franco doesn't shape up, the Phillies could make a hard push for Manny Machado. Franco after a two-game benching is back in the lineup for this afternoon's game against the Rockies (see story).

Then, of course, there's Bryce Harper, who earlier this month agreed to a one-year, $21,625,000 deal for next season. 

And guess what? If Harper becomes a free agent after next season, the Phillies would be interested in signing him.

Really?

According to a FanRagSportsNetwork, citing a Phillies source, the Phils would be interested luring Harper to Philly.

Shocker. 

It'd be big news if a Phillies source said the team wasn't interested in signing Harper. 

Anyway, the story also quotes a National League scout.

“Could you imagine what he could do in that ballpark playing 81 games a year in that bandbox?” the scout said.

Chances are every Phillies fan has already imagined it. Harper this season alone is hitting .351/.400/.784 with five homers and 12 RBIs in nine games against the Phils. In three games at the Bank, he's hitting just .250 with a homer and two RBIs.

But in 38 career games at CBP, he's hitting .296/.361/.627 with 12 home runs and 26 RBIs.

In 89 career games against the Phillies, he's hitting .282 with 20 homers and 54 RBIs.

At the risk of stating the obvious, here's one thing to remember: If the Phils sign Harper, then he'd no longer benefit from facing them.

Today's Lineup: Franco batting cleanup as Phillies try to snap skid

Today's Lineup: Franco batting cleanup as Phillies try to snap skid

Well, this hasn't gone well. 

Coming into Thursday afternoon's game against the Rockies, the Phillies have lost five straight. They've lost nine of their last 10. They've lost 20 of their last 24. 

At 15-29, they're not just the worst team in the NL East. They're not just the worst team in the National League. 

Through 44 games, the Phillies are the worst team in baseball. 

Just to make it to a .500 record this season, they would need to go 66-52 (.559) the rest of the way. 

Their four-game series against the Rockies will mercifully come to a close on Thursday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. In the first three games of the series -- all losses -- the Phils have been outscored 23-5. 

Maikel Franco returns to the four-hole as the Phillies try to snap out of their funk.

The Phillies on Thursday also activated right-handed pitcher Jeanmar Gomez from the disabled list. Gomez takes Adam Morgan's spot on the roster. Morgan was reassigned to Triple A Lehigh Valley after throwing three scoreless innings during the Phillies' 7-2 loss to the Rockies.

Gomez hasn't pitched since May 4 because of an elbow injury. He began the season as the Phillies' closer but was demoted after blowing two saves and allowing seven runs in his first five innings. In 11 1/3 innings this season, Gomez has a 7.94 ERA.

Here's the full lineup: 

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Aaron Altherr, LF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Tommy Joseph, 1B
6. Michael Saunders, RF
7. Cameron Rupp, C
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Vince Velasquez, P