The Old Big Piece in 2013?
Ryan Howard stood in front of his locker at Citi Field late last night and tried to explain why his swing became so compact and so quick in the ninth inning after it looked so long and so slow in his first three at-bats.
“I blacked out, I guess,” he said. “Maybe I need to black out more often.”
Howard crushed a 0-1 fastball from Mets left-hander Josh Edgin into the upper deck in right field for a two-out, two-run home run to propel the Phillies to a 3-2 victory. It kept the Phillies’ faint postseason hopes alive. They remain four games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the second National League Wild Card with 13 games to play, meaning even if they finish the season 10-3 the Cardinals would need to finish no better than 6-7 to tie.
But, hey, at least they still have a chance.
They can thank Howard for that.
Howard has had an interesting year. He opened the season on the disabled list following left Achilles surgery. He has played nearly every day since his return, but is hitting just .225 with 11 doubles, 11 home runs, 48 RBIs and a .718 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. Howard’s batting average, .303 on-base percentage, .416 slugging percentage and OPS would be career lows — by far — if projected over the course of a 162-game season, but his RBIs project to 123 because he is hitting .344 (21-for-61) with runners in scoring position.
Ruben Amaro Jr. and Charlie Manuel both believe Howard’s left leg has been a factor in his struggles this season. They also believe a full season of strength training and conditioning will get him back in shape.
They have to hope that’s all it takes, anyway.
Howard begins the second year of a five-year, $125 million contract extension next year. His numbers generally have been in decline since 2006, so unless he reverses that trend next season the Phillies are going to be in a bad spot in the future. Sure, the Phillies will try to add a bat or two in the offseason, but if it ends up being one of the guys most people mention (i.e. Michael Bourn or B.J. Upton) I’m not sure they’re going to be saviors. (I hear a lot about Upton’s tools and potential, but can somebody show me the production?) That means they need guys like Howard to continue to carry the weight.
Is it realistic to ask that of him? Unfortunately for the Phillies, they have no choice.