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.

Best of NBA: Heat stun Warriors on Dion Waiters' 3 with 0.6 seconds left

Best of NBA: Heat stun Warriors on Dion Waiters' 3 with 0.6 seconds left

MIAMI -- Dion Waiters' 3-pointer with 0.6 seconds left capped his 33-point effort, and the Miami Heat beat Golden State 105-102 on Monday night to end the Warriors' seven-game winning streak.

The Heat wasted a 10-point lead in the final 4 minutes, and Kevin Durant tied the game on a dunk with 11.7 seconds left. With no timeouts, Waiters walked the ball up the court and drilled what became the game-winner over Klay Thompson.

Stephen Curry missed a 3-pointer as time expired for the Warriors (see full recap).

Rivers, Crawford lead Clippers past Hawks
ATLANTA -- Austin Rivers scored 27 points and Jamal Crawford broke out of a shooting slump with 19, helping the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Atlanta Hawks 115-105 on Monday night.

Crawford had eight points in the fourth quarter, including a driving basket after Atlanta cut the Clippers' lead from 24 to five points.

Kent Bazemore led the Hawks with 25 points. Dennis Schroder had 21, and Dwight Howard added 16 points and 12 rebounds (see full recap).

Wizards beat Hornets behind Wall’s 24
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- John Wall firmly believes the Washington Wizards are a good team with plenty of playoff potential.

The key, he said, "is we just got to believe it every time we step on the court."

Wall had 24 points and seven assists, and the Wizards looked plenty confident as they continued their run up the Eastern Conference standings with a 109-99 win against the Charlotte Hornets on Monday night (see full recap).

Kings snap skid with win over Pistons
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- DeMarcus Cousins had 22 points and 14 rebounds, and the Sacramento Kings snapped a five-game losing streak with a 109-104 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Monday night.

Ty Lawson added 19 points and helped Sacramento turn the game around with a strong second quarter. Lawson scored nine points in the second, and the Kings outscored the Pistons 37-24 in the period to take a 65-62 lead into halftime.

A 3-pointer by Lawson put Sacramento up 101-90 in the fourth, and the Kings held on from there to stop Detroit's three-game winning streak (see full recap).

Jones, Holiday lead Pelicans past Cavs
NEW ORLEANS -- Terrence Jones filled in brilliantly for injured All-Star Anthony Davis, scoring a season-high 36 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking LeBron James' dunk attempt in the fourth quarter, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 124-122 on Monday night.

Jrue Holiday added 33 points and 10 assists for the Pelicans, and Langston Galloway capped a 12-point night with a clean steal on James' drive in the final minute, preventing the Cavs from erasing a deficit they had trimmed from 22 late in the first half to three with 1:32 left in the game.

Kyrie Irving scoring 35 of his 49 points in the second half, but the Cleveland fell to its fifth loss in seven games. James had 26 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds (see full recap).

Best of NHL: Henrik Lundqvist's 36 saves leads Rangers past Kings

Best of NHL: Henrik Lundqvist's 36 saves leads Rangers past Kings

NEW YORK -- Henrik Lundqvist stopped 36 shots to lead the New York Rangers over the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 on Monday night.

Brandon Pirri, Matt Puempel and Mats Zuccarello scored to help New York win its third straight since a three-game skid.

Jordan Nolan and Kyle Clifford scored, and Jeff Zatkoff finished with 14 saves for Los Angeles, which has lost four straight and five of seven.

Lundqvist has given up just four goals on 84 shots during the winning streak -- including a 1-0 shutout at Detroit on Monday -- after allowing 20 on 113 shots the previous four games.

The veteran goalie needed to be at his best in this one as the Kings, who last played Saturday across town against the Islanders, seemed a step faster from the start and controlled play for most of the first two periods (see full recap).

Caps top 'Canes to extend point streak to 14 games
WASHINGTON -- Defenseman Dmitry Orlov scored twice and the Washington Capitals kept the offense rolling to beat the Carolina Hurricanes 6-1 on Monday night and extend their point streak to 14 games.

Orlov doubled his goal output for the season and Justin Williams, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie and Lars Eller also scored for the Capitals, who have won three in a row and haven't lost in regulation since Dec. 27. Washington scored on six of its 25 shots on Cam Ward and handed Carolina its fourth consecutive loss.

Braden Holtby made 25 saves for his 23rd victory of the season. The only goal he allowed came from Jordan Staal on the power play in the first period.

The Capitals allowed the first goal for the first time in 11 games but scored six unanswered to continue their winning ways. They've scored 44 goals in their past eight games (see full recap).

Kadri reaches 20 goals as Leafs beat Flames
TORONTO -- Nazem Kadri scored twice to tie his career high with 20 goals this season, Frederik Andersen stopped 26 shots and the Toronto Maple Leafs ended a two-game winless streak with a 4-0 win over the Calgary Flames on Monday night.

Kadri beat Brian Elliott twice, and Andersen captured his second shutout as a Leaf.

Rookies Mitch Marner and Zach Hyman also scored for Toronto, which sits third in the Atlantic Division with 53 points.

Elliott gave up four goals on 28 shots, dropping his fourth consecutive start.

The Flames have lost three in a row and five of the past six. They are a point up on Vancouver for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference (see full recap).