The Phillies returned home yesterday after a long weekend in DC where they went 3-1 and witnessed the last baseball game at RFK Stadium. More importantly, they’ve surfaced to just a half game out of the Wild Card spot with six games to play (3 each against Atlanta and Washington). The Fightins are off today, but both the Mets (at home versus Washington) and Padres (at San Francisco against Barry Zito) have games scheduled. Down the stretch the Phils will send to the mound Moyer, Lohse (though he came out of the bullpen yesterday), either Eaton or Kendrick, Hamels, either Eaton or Durbin, then Moyer again. Still, like all season, the offense will have to carry the team.Â And no one person has a bigger opportunity to help fulfill that role than Ryan Howard.
You may have heard, the third-year slugger added his name to another record yesterday – most strikeouts in a season. His 195th K tied the mark set by Adam Dunn in 2004. Ryan will likely break the record on Tuesday and will quite possibly end the year with over 200 strikeouts. It’s safe to say though, we saw this coming. In Spring Training we witnessed him struggle, ESPN Magazine even did a feature on the hole in his swing…that has yet to be addressed. Don’t get me wrong, Howard’s 42 homers and 125 RBIs are crucial to the Phillies success thus far; but the strikeouts have come too often and usually at critical times in games. This season, during situations in which it is the 7th inning or later with the batting team either ahead by one run, tied or with the potential tying run at least on deck (“close and late” as defined by STATS), Ryan Howard has 33 strikeouts, 19 hits, 17 RBIs in 73 at bats. Meanwhile, Chase Utley has 13 Ks in 87 ABs, Pat Burrell has 22Ks in 65 ABs, and Aaron Rowand has 22 Ks in 87 ABs. So at this point in the season, when wins are all that matter, Ryan Howard has a prime opportunity to shake off the stigma and propel this team to the playoffs. He did it in 2005, and he’s the type of player that can do it again.