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Utley named NL Player of Month for July

Utley named NL Player of Month for July

When the 2006 season began, there was talk of a Phillies middle infielder sneaking up on Joe DiMaggio's hallowed 56-game hitting streak that has stood since 1941.

The murmurs quickly died down in early April when shortstop Jimmy Rollins had his streak snapped at 38. But the talk is back. This time it's Rollins' double play partner, Chase Utley, who is drawing the attention.

Now riding a 33-game hitting streak that dates back to Philadelphia's June 23 game against Boston, Utley is garnering national attention. And the accolades keep coming for the Phillies' second baseman, who earned National League Player of the Month honors as he continues to make a push at surpassing the next seven players that stand between him and DiMaggio.

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"It's great," Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard said. "To be able to hit behind him and watch him, it's been fun. It's been a fun guy to watch. Not only fans in Philadelphia, but baseball fans everywhere appreciate what is going on right now, and it has everyone on the edge of their seats wondering what he is going to do."

Although Utley's hitting streak has garnered the most attention, his sucess is deeper than that. In the 25 games Philadelphia played in July, Utley recorded multi-hit games in 17 of them. The barrage of hits raised Utley's average from .298 to among the league leaders at .327.

Utley's .425 month-long batting average was best in the Major Leagues among players who recorded enough plate appearances. He also led the Majors with a .475 on-base percentage.

Amid the recent streak Utley has remained quiet, sidestepping questions about it with ease. Whether for superstitious reasons or simply in an effort to avoid the spotlight, Utley preferred to shower praise on his team, which went 13-12 during the most recent month.

"It's amazing to watch him hit right now, but I don't think anybody's really mentioning it," Phillies catcher Mike Lieberthal said. "So, we're trying to kind of keep that quiet."

Utley's hitting streak ranks second all-time in the Phillies franchise behind Rollins, though by this time next week that could be old news. And with hits in his next 11 games, Utley will match the National League record of 44 consecutive games with a hit, which was set by Pete Rose in 1978.

It remains to be seen whether Utley can match Rose's mark, but in the eyes of Phillies assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle, the 27-year-old Utley is primed to make a run at something that still eludes Rose -- Hall of Fame enshrinement.

"I always knew he was going to be a good player," said Arbuckle. "He has reached the upper echelon faster than I thought. He has a great work ethic and is never satisfied. I think he has a chance to be a Hall of Famer. He can be an exceptional player for a long time."

It's hard to peg how a career .276 hitter before this season could find such a mid-season groove. Maybe the maturity that has come from a fourth season in the big leagues is finally providing dividends. Or maybe it's the drive that comes from Utley's simply hating to lose.

"He doesn't take losing well," said Phillies relief pitcher Geoff Geary. "I'm that way when it comes to baseball. He's competitive in everything he does: darts, pool, video games, whatever. He knows what to do and when to do it. I've always said it's either fight or flight. He's a fighter and he doesn't run away from anything. He'll attack that situation until he's conquered it."

Utley was successful in conquering just about every obstacle in his way in June. But the true test of chasing an immortalized number is still ahead and could make this month even more noteworthy than the last.

Two other National League East players were strongly considered for Player of the Month honor. With 10 home runs and 32 RBIs in July, New York's Carlos Beltran put together quite an impressive showing in July. Atlanta's Chipper Jones, who finished the month with an incredible .500 average, powered the Braves during the first part of the month before a strained left oblique forced him out of the lineup to close out the month.

Jennifer Langosch is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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