Dodgers (65-52) at Phillies (56-63)
7:05 p.m. on CSN
Tuesday's series opener between the Phillies and Dodgers isn't your ordinary mid-August, interdivisional game. See, the Dodgers have this second baseman who used to play for the Phils ...
1. The Man returns
Chase Utley is back at Citizens Bank Park for the first time since last summer's trade to the Dodgers. It will be his first time dressing in the visitor's clubhouse at CBP and the fans' first time watching him step to the plate in a different uniform. It's going to be a bit surreal in South Philly tonight for both Utley and the fans.
It won't be strange for the Phillies' players, though. They just faced Utley last week at Dodger Stadium. He went 3 for 13 in the series with a solo homer, including 1 for 3 with a strikeout against tonight's starter, Vince Velasquez.
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There are obviously so many memories Utley created in this ballpark over the years. And at this point it feels so long since that Golden Era or since Utley's peak that you're forgiven if you've forgotten just how dominant a player he once was.
From 2005 to 2009, Utley hit .301/.388/.535 with an average of 39 doubles, 29 homers, 101 RBIs and 111 runs per season. During that span, the only player in baseball worth more Wins Above Replacement was Albert Pujols.
Utley was an elite offensive second baseman, but at that point he was also an elite defensive second baseman and an underratedly solid baserunner. During that five-year stretch, Utley was credited with 98 defensive runs saved. The next-closest second baseman was Mark Ellis with 61.
And from a baserunning standpoint, something a lot of folks don't realize is that Utley has the highest stolen base percentage in the history of baseball among players with at least 100 attempts. He's been successful 87.8 percent of the time. His speed was often overlooked, but if Utley hit a ground ball to second base and the second baseman didn't charge it or sat back, Utley had the speed to beat it out. He never stopped hustling, and that probably played a role in the chronic knee condition that morphed him from a superstar to just a good player.
2. Oh yeah, the game
This is actually a pretty important series for the Phillies, who are on the very precipice of wild-card contention with 43 games remaining.
The Phils have won four in a row to climb to 6½ games back of the second NL wild-card spot. The Cardinals and Marlins are tied for that last playoff position at 62-56. Behind them are the Pirates (60-56), Mets (59-59) and Phillies (56-63).
The Phils would have to pass four teams in the standings, so it's difficult to even begin feeling that wild-card fever. They've played well lately, but with upcoming series against the Dodgers and Cardinals, it's quite possible they fade again. It's the same thing as a hot hitter whose next slump is just around the corner.
The Phillies have defied the odds all season. They began the year 0-4 and are remarkably just three games under .500 since. It's remarkable because this team doesn't have a ton of experience or talent. They've executed in the latter innings, compiling the NL's best record in one-run games at 24-15. Their run differential is so lopsidedly negative, though, that the Phils' expected win-loss record (48-71) is eight games worse than their actual record.
But that's why the games are played in the field and not on paper. By improving the starting rotation and defense, the Phillies have played to a 76-86 pace this season, which would be a 13-win upgrade over 2015.
3. Velasquez's chance to redeem himself
Phillies manager Pete Mackanin was not happy with how Velasquez attacked the Dodgers last Tuesday night. He thought Velasquez threw too many fastballs, not changing speeds or eye levels enough against a veteran Dodgers lineup that has power and discipline at the plate.
The result was the worst game of Velasquez's brief MLB career. He allowed nine earned runs on 11 hits and three homers over 4⅔ innings. That one poor start pushed his ERA up from 3.33 to 3.94.
Velasquez has to game plan the Dodgers differently this time around. You can't just rely on spotting your fastball vs. a team that has players capable of hitting the ball with authority up the middle or to the opposite field. Corey Seager, Adrian Gonzalez and Justin Turner — the Dodgers' three most dangerous bats — all possess that ability.
4. Another look at Maeda
The Phillies hit Dodgers rookie Kenta Maeda well last Tuesday but weren't competitive because of how many runs Velasquez allowed. Aaron Altherr and Freddy Galvis both homered off the Japanese right-hander, who gave up three runs in five innings and threw 104 pitches.
The Phillies have been hot offensively of late. They've averaged 6.2 runs in August and hit 16 homers in 12 games.
Cesar Hernandez and Odubel Herrera have gotten back to getting on base at the top of the lineup, and the Phils now have four legitimate power bats in Maikel Franco, Aaron Altherr, Cameron Rupp and whoever is playing first base.
Maeda has had a good year (11-7, 3.31) but he doesn't often go deep into games. He's averaging 5.7 innings per start and has pitched into the seventh just twice in his last nine starts.
5. This and that
• Hernandez and Herrera have reached base in 37 of 96 plate appearances this month for a combined .385 OBP. That's exactly what you're looking for out of your first two hitters.
• Gonzalez has always mashed at Citizens Bank Park. In 31 career games here, he's hit .295/.351/.582 with 11 homers and 26 RBIs.
• Only one of the next six pitchers the Phillies are scheduled to face is a left-hander and that's Scott Kazmir tomorrow night. Could mean some more playing time for Ryan Howard, who's hit .367 with four doubles, five homers and 13 RBIs since the All-Star break.