When the Philadelphia Phillies went to back-to-back World Series in 2008 and 2009, they did it mostly on the power of their hitting. The Phillies were known as a team that lived and died at the plate, using their bats to win games since, at that time, their pitching was good, but wasn’t a rotation anyone in MLB feared to hit against. So the Phillies pounded the ball, and no one was better at it in those years than Ryan Howard.
In 2008, Howard led the National League with 48 home runs in addition to 146 runs batted in, finishing the season with a batting average of .251. He followed that up in 2009 by hitting 45 home runs and had an average of .279 by the time the season ended. Since then, his numbers have steadily declined each year as Howard has dealt with a series of injuries and the simple fact that he is getting older.
But at least once every year, Howard gets on a hot streak, where he returns to his former glory and regularly sends the ball to the fences. And that is usually when the Phillies start winning games; when the Big Piece carries the team and clinches the close ball games, as he did when he hit a walk-off home run on May 28 against the Colorado Rockies.
And if ever the Phillies needed Howard to get hot, it’s now. The team is currently sitting at 10 games under .500 on the season, is riding a six-game losing streak and have dropped 12 of their last 16 games. Only the Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago Cubs have worse records in all of MLB.
But even given all of that, the Phillies could still turn things around. They are seven games out of first place with a lot of baseball still to be played. If the Phillies get hot at the right time, the team could easily string together a series of wins and be right back in the thick of the playoff hunt.
But for any of that to have a chance of happening, it all rests on Howard’s shoulders. Every time the Phillies have gone on a win streak in the past, nine times out of ten it coincided with Howard’s bat getting red hot and the rest of the team following his lead. Yes, he does strike out an infuriatingly ridiculous number of times, but that is the price you are going to pay for having a power hitter who likes to hit the long ball.
If the Phillies have any hope of saving the season and avoiding a huge fire sale come the trade deadline, the offense has to start producing on a regular, consistent basis. There can’t be anymore shutout losses and the starting pitching has to have the run support they need.
And for good or bad, that all starts with Ryan Howard.