The Philadelphia Phillies aren't favored to make the playoffs this season. But, if Ryne Sandberg has any hope of legitimate contention he needs every core player to remain in place. That reality was evident during Chase Utley's two-day absence this week.
Utley's past knee issues appear to be behind him. However, the flu bug can bite any baseball man. Any team can survive two games without a key cog in April. Missing a major part come any September stretch drive, or during October playoff action, is a different story to write.
Early optimism has to be high, based upon number 26's appearances so far this April, as Utley is using his short swing to make easy contact with with the ball. Gone are the days where the Phillies second baseman looked pained at the plate. Plus, his fielding efforts aren't overly-limited by range.
Yes, Utley never wore a golden glove. But, he has a .981 lifetime fielding percentage through 1,200-plus games at second base and that's quite alright.
Ranking with a short-list of iconic Phillies' players during the team's second 'Golden Era', this 35-year-old veteran appears to have found a way to lengthen a career that seemed lost not that long ago. With a current contract that could extend to 2018, fans are still right to wonder how long this California native can remain fully productive.
More than a few players must have strong offensive seasons if Philadelphia's fans are to count more than 81 wins this year. As of right now, with ever-cautious optimism in place, Utley appears able to carry his part of the load.