Last season, after returning from an Achilles injury and struggling for the remainder of the season, Howard’s poor performances could have been attributed to needing more time to fully heal while the Phillies played through a disappointing season.
This season, however, is a bit different.
With more current and former key contributors set to become free agents after the season, the trade deadline should bring even more intrigue for the Phillies. If they continue to have trouble winning consistently, a number of players may also be mentioned in trade talks, even more so than last season.
The Phillies have just one fewer loss this season than they did this time last year, yet general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has said that he will take his time deciding what to do at the trade deadline.
Amaro was recently quoted, after talking about sticking with the Phillies core until the trade deadline, in an article by Jim Salisbury on CSNPhilly.com as saying:
The reason I say that is because [the races] are still really dicey, he said. No one has really stepped out and gone crazy. The Dodgers are playing their butts off now all of a sudden. Now they’re six games back and they’re in it. We’re only seven back.
We had one streak where we’ve really played well. And we’ve only had a brief period where we’ve had our whole team on the field. We’ll find out. I honestly think it’s going to end up going to July 20 or July 30 or somewhere around then and we’ll decide which direction we’re going to go.
If Amaro intends to let the team continue to play as is until right before the trade deadline, he must be hoping that the team can show signs of consistent improvement at the end of the first half and beginning of the second half of the season.
If that’s the case, the Phillies should place Ryan Howard on the disabled list now.
Hopefully that the rest will give his knee time to recover and lead to more of a power surge following the All-Star break.
Howard is currently batting .268 with 10 home runs and 41 RBI, which includes a .304 average against right-handed pitchers. However, it also includes a .173 average against left-handers.
He has actually had a very solid June, batting .298 with two triples, three home runs and a .386 OBP. However, in the power department, Howard’s 10 home runs on the season are only three more than he hit during spring training.
Howard hit seven home runs in 28 games during spring training. It was not until game No. 53 of the regular season that he hit his seventh home run.
Word came yesterday that Howard will be given two days off, June 28 and June 29, to clear his head and continue to work on his hitting, as noted in Ryan Lawrence’s article on Philly.com.
The article also says that Amaro has not ruled out placing him on the disabled list.
As a power hitter, it’s reasonable to think that Howard’s lack of home runs so far could be due to his knee. If he cannot generate enough power from his lower body, it will be difficult for him to see any increase in home runs. That means he will stay well on pace to have the lowest home run total for a full season in his career.
Rather than trying to modify Howard’s swing to compensate for a lack of power from his lower body, the Phillies would be better off trying to let Howard heal and return with the same swing. Even if Howard is able to adjust his swing for the rest of this season, he would likely have to return to his previous one after an offseason of rehabbing and healing.
If his knee is already too sore for him to play at 100 percent and generate power consistently, chances are it will only become more difficult as he has more innings and more games under his belt.
By placing him on the disabled list, the Phillies would likely lose offense at first base, unless the team decided to move Michael Young to first and play Kevin Frandsen at third. However, the Phillies have consistently remained around seven to seven-and-a-half games out of first place even with Howard’s bat in the lineup.
A few weeks off could improve Howard's knee, which could lead to higher power numbers during the second half of the season.
The Phillies will still need much more than Howard’s improved offense to turn around the season, but more offense from the cleanup spot in the lineup would be a start.
And as it currently stands, Howard playing at less than 100 percent is not helping the team win with any more consistency.