Utley's hot bat mirrors Dodgers' surge

Veteran infielder goes 3-for-4 as LA snares NL West lead

Utley's hot bat mirrors Dodgers' surge

ST. LOUIS -- Chase Utley isn't quite sure what turned his season around. He isn't complaining though.

After a rough start to the year that saw him hit .098 (5-for-51), the Dodgers' second baseman has been on a tear, capped off by a 3-for-4 performance against the Cardinals in a 9-4 win at Busch Stadium on Tuesday.

"Yeah, it wasn't ideal," Utley said of his start to the year, pausing to add a chuckle. "It's not something you really anticipate, but it is what it is. I've been through some funks over the course of my career before."

He's certainly been in some funks, but he's also been on some hot streaks -- like the one he's on right now.

Utley's triple

Utley is hitting .393 over his last 18 games with an at-bat, the last five of which have seen him record at least one RBI. He started off Tuesday with a triple and didn't slow down, pulling the team within a run with an RBI ground-rule double in the third inning and scoring the go-ahead run after a single by Kiké Hernandez and a Cardinals error.

"I think if you look at [last] three weeks, he's been as good as any player in the National League," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "I think you throw out those first 50 at-bats, he's off to a great start."

Roberts maintained that even while Utley was slumping, he was a valuable part of the team. He cited Utley's defense and clubhouse presence as ways he contributed during the slow start.

It's probably no coincidence the Dodgers have gone on a run that coincides with Utley's hot streak. After winning their sixth straight game -- as well of 11 of their last 13 -- the Dodgers have catapulted into first in the National League West ahead of the Rockies, who lost to the Mariners on Tuesday.

"It means we're playing pretty good baseball, but it's a long season," Utley said. "We've got to continue to improve and want to improve. [We] can't look too far ahead."

Scott Chasen is a reporter for MLB.com and covered the Dodgers on Tuesday. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.