5 Predictions for Ryan Howard's Comeback with the Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies announced via Twitter earlier on Friday that Howard has been activated off the DL. The word from Todd Zolecki of MLB.com is that Howard is in the No. 4 spot in Charlie Manuel's lineup for Friday night's contest against the Atlanta Braves.
Howard hasn't played in a major league ballgame since Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals, when he famously tore his Achilles tendon on a groundout that clinched the series for the Cardinals. He's been on the disabled list since the start of the season.
Howard's power has been missed. The Phillies have only hit 83 home runs through their first 84 games, and they rank in the middle of the pack in runs scored.
In a perfect world, Howard will provide the production that the Phillies have been missing all season. In an even more perfect world, he'll help them make a comeback in the NL East. The Phillies enter the weekend 37-47 and 13 games behind the Washington Nationals, and the slightest breeze could push them towards a deadline season fire sale.
There's no telling what's going to happen, but I have a few rational predictions for how all of this is going to play out. Start the slideshow whenever you're ready for some serious prophesying.
Note: All stats come from Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Howard's Return Won't Stop the Phillies from Selling
For virtually the entire season, the general train of thought concerning the Phillies has been that they merely have to tread water until the second half, when Chase Utley and Ryan Howard would give them a boost and carry them toward October.
This notion is still alive in some circles, but you get the sense that most people know the score in Philadelphia. The Phillies haven't even been able to tread water without Utley and Howard, and the odds of them making the postseason are slim. This is true even with the extra wild-card berth.
The clock is ticking for the Phillies to get back into the NL playoff race, and nobody in the team's front office is going to patiently wait for the wins to start coming. Not while valuable trade chips like Cole Hamels (pictured) and Shane Victorino are lying around.
General manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. has said (via CSNPhilly.com) that he's not ready to give up on the season, but Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com has reported that the Phillies have told teams they're pretty close to going into fire-sale mode.
Publicly, they want people to think they're going to fight the good fight. Behind the scenes, they're inches away from waving a white flag.
In other words, Howard has precious little time to make his presence felt and to help the team itself get back on the right track. That's a lot to task of a player who hasn't played in months, not to mention a player who was declining as a hitter even before he got hurt.
In addition, asking this Phillies team to snap out of it and get hot is asking a lot. They only have a couple weeks to make up a sizable deficit in the division, and the odds of them getting hot enough to do that are somewhere between slim and none.
So I'll come right out and say it: When August begins, the Phillies will have already waved their white flag.
The Phillies Will Play .500 Baseball in August and September
After the Phillies wave their white flag, things will calm down considerably. There will be less pressure on them to do the impossible, and that will allow them to relax and play ball.
And this will be a good thing. The Phillies' current winning percentage checks in at .440, but I see them doing a lot better than that in the final two months of the season. The bar should be set at an even .500, which would be a marked improvement.
Howard will help the cause. He's not going to start blasting home runs left and right like he did between 2006 and 2009, but he's going to hit some balls out of the park and he's going to drive in plenty of runs. Say what you will about the guy, but he deserves credit for the fact that he's always had a nose for the RBI.
The Phillies' improvement won't all be Howard's doing, of course. Utley has an .899 OPS in seven games since his return, with a pair of home runs to boot. The time off has done him some good, and there's little reason to think he can't at least be an above-average hitter in the season's final months.
Roy Halladay will soon be back as well. MLB.com has reported that Halladay could return to the Phillies' rotation as soon as July 16, and it's all but certain that his time off is going to work out for the best. The Phillies are going to get the old Halladay back.
The Phillies were a game over .500 when Halladay last pitched on May 27. With him back and Utley and Howard healthy, I don't see why the Phillies won't be able to play .500 ball down the stretch.
Howard Will Have to Be Shut Down at Least Once with Soreness
The Phillies are being careful with Utley. Presently, the plan they have him on has him sitting every third day. The last thing they want is to ruin his knees, which are already pretty well ruined.
They'll be careful with Howard, too, but his Achilles is bound to start bothering him at some point. It's bad enough that he still runs with a bit of a limp right now, according to CSNPhilly.com. The fact that he's freaking enormous isn't going to make things any easier.
No matter how careful the Phillies are with Howard, they won't be able to change how much weight his surgically repaired Achilles has to bear. It's just a matter of time before his Achilles starts barking.
When that time comes, the Phillies will be even more careful with Howard by shutting him down for a couple of days. I wouldn't be surprised if they even went so far as to put him on the 15-day disabled list, just to be safe.
After all, the Phillies are committed to Howard through 2016, and his contract has a club option for 2017. They're not about to take any risks with his long-term health knowing that they still have a few years and a ton of money invested in him.
Besides, they've already played half the season without him. Him missing a couple extra days or a couple weeks wouldn't be anything new for the Phillies.
Howard Will Finish with Exactly 13 Home Runs
OK, let's talk numbers for a change. How many home runs is Howard going to hit between now and the rest of the season?
Give me exactly 13.
Between 2006 and 2009, Howard averaged about 25 home runs in the second half of the season. He'll fall well short of that mark a) because he's not the hitter he once was and b) because there's going to be a limit to how many games he'll be able to play in.
Last season, Howard played in 62 games after the All-Star break and hit 15 home runs. The Phillies have 75 games remaining after the All-Star break this season, and I will be utterly shocked if Howard plays in every single one of them.
He's going to be rested and I've already stated that he's bound to be shut down at some point, so somewhere between 58 and 62 games after the break sounds about right.
That's roughly 200 at-bats. If Howard homers once every 14.5 at-bats like he did in the second half of last season, that equates to just about 14 home runs.
I'll take one under that total.
As a bonus, I'll set the over/under for his RBI total at 40.
No October Baseball This Year
You could probably see this one coming way back on Slide 1, so don't act so surprised.
The Phillies aren't making the postseason this year, even if Howard turns into Babe Ruth. The Phillies are only on pace to win about 71 games this season, and they're going to need a lot more wins than that to qualify for the playoffs.
It's going to take around 87 or 88 wins to lock up a postseason berth in the National League this season. That would require the Phillies to win at least 50 of their final 78 games, a winning percentage of .641.
Yeah...that's not happening.
I'll reiterate that .500 baseball is a definite possibility for this Phillies team following the trade deadline, but there's a monumental difference between .500 baseball and .640 baseball. The Phillies aren't that good, and the rest of the NL East is not that bad. For that matter, the rest of the National League isn't too shabby, either.
The Phillies are going to need more than Ryan Howard to make the postseason this year. They're going to need a miracle.
Knowing their luck, they won't get one.
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