I'm going to get a lot of flak for this, but I'm going to say it anyway: Ryan Howard is back.
During Howard's most productive period from 2006 to 2009, there was a certain sound the ball had coming off his bat, a certain way the ball jumped when it was being hit. That was lacking the last few seasons, but you could see and hear it when Howard was at the plate Sunday.
Over the weekend, the Big Piece went 4-for-10 with a pair of homers and a double that was this close to being another round tripper but was knocked down by a stiff wind in Clearwater.
Even more encouraging was that one of the homers and the double came off left-handed pitchers. Overall, Howard is hitting .440 against lefties this spring, with three homers, three doubles and—brace yourselves—only four strikeouts in 25 at-bats.
Of course, these numbers are bound to even out as the regular season progresses. If Howard can have more success against lefties (he hit a woeful .178 last season with only six homers in 98 at-bats) it will be a boon to the Phillies and their offensive woes.
If Howard can even come close to replicating the seasons he's had in the past, the Phillies could solidify their position as playoff contenders—and go a long way toward giving their excellent starting rotation some real run support.