For the Philadelphia Phillies, the announcement that 1B Ryan Howard will return to the line-up for tonight's game against the Atlanta Braves, could not have come at a better time.
In the midst of a season of ups and downs, the Phillies need something to turn this season around. The return of Chase Utley last week was supposed to be the remedy, but it has only been a temporary cure. Utley has done his job for the most part, but the power of the line-up continues to be absent and the need for Howard continues to grow.
At 10 games under .500, 13 games out of first and an incredibly tough mountain to climb just to make the playoffs, things have not been good in Philadelphia. The team recently was forced to trade Jim Thome because of his inability to play in the National League, and rumors have been swirling about possible trades of Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino.
It is probably no surprise that rumors of a firesale have spread considering the recent state of the team, but considering last night's final straw, these rumors might become true as the trade deadline approaches.
With Cole Hamels on the mound, the Phillies looked to take a victory against the New York Mets. Leading 5-4 in the 9th inning, the Phils brought in their closer, the almost sure thing in Jonathan Papelbon.
Unfortunately, last night was Papelbon's second blown save, and it couldn't have come at a worst time. The Phils lost the game while the Marlins, Braves, Nationals and of course Mets all took wins, and distanced themselves that much further from the last place Phillies.
Much hasn't gone right for the Phillies this season and the injuries to Howard, Utley and Roy Halladay haven't helped. Now with Utley back and Howard ready to make his 2012 Phillies debut, things could finally start to turn around. And if the Phils hope to make a 6th consecutive playoff appearance, they will need it to turn around and to turn around soon.
To quote a Counting Crows song, "you don't know what you got til it's gone." For the Phillies, this is exactly the situation they found themselves in with Howard this season.
Although his production was always valued, I don't think anyone really realized how much this team would miss him until they were forced to play the first half of the season without him in the line-up.
In terms of power and production, Howard's career 864 RBI and 286 home runs lead the team by far. This season, those numbers have been sorely missed as the Phils rank tied for 13th in home runs and 15th for RBI.
Howard's return will give this line-up a spark and a reason to be optimistic for the rest of the season. Although Carlos Ruiz has done an excellent job filling in for Howard in the clean-up spot, putting the "Big Piece" back there will give the Phils a very formidable heart of the order, something they have not had all season.
Howard has also been missed at first base. With Jim Thome, Ty Wigginton, Laynce Nix, John Mayberry and Hector Luna all seeing time at the bag, there has really been no consistency at the position both at the plate and on defense.
Even though one player won't suddenly turn this team into a championship contender, it could go a long way to keeping morale up and to giving this team hope going forward. There has been a glaring hole in this team all season, and with Howard back, that hole is only going to get smaller. The power and production he provides has not and cannot be matched by what this team currently has.
For the Phils, who have been in the cellar for the better part of the season, getting Howard back can't hurt. With just a few games left before the All-Star break, this is the perfect time for the slugger to return, as the team is going to need to have some kind of magical second half of the season to get a shot at another World Series appearance.
They are going to need Utley, but they are certainly and maybe most importantly going to need Howard.