If the Philadelphia Phillies are going to win another World Series this year, they will do it on the arms of their starting pitchers. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels especially were incredible throughout the regular season, and will have to continue their magical seasons into the playoffs for the Phils to hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy.
However, if those arms falter even for a second, as was the case of Halladay in the first inning of Game 1 of the NLDS, a lot of the pressure will obviously fall to bats, and perhaps more obviously, to Ryan Howard.
Howard is at the heart of this lineup for a reason. No one hits the long ball more or drives in more runs consistently than Howard.
But after a 2010 playoff run in which he hit a grand total of zero home runs and drove in exactly zero runs, and a hefty contract that many are questioning, Howard is feeling more pressure than ever to produce this postseason.
And after a night with a three-run go-ahead jack and four RBI, I would say Howard is responding well thus far.
Not only did Howard hit the home run and start the rally that would make the difference, but he played very well in the field as he’s done all season long despite the criticism otherwise.
There is a ton of pressure on everyone holding a bat thanks to a down year from the lineup as a whole, but Howard is really the guy everyone is watching. It was evident in Game 1 when the crowd got that much louder with Howard coming to the plate.
I loved the lineup last night with Chase Utley moving into the second spot and Hunter Pence right behind him. Those guys are going to get on base via the hit or the walk and will put Howard in a great position to have some big moments this postseason. Utley and Pence are known to account for some runs on their own, but unless Howard can keep driving them home on a consistent basis the Phillies’ offense will struggle mightily.
We saw it last night, and we’ll continue to see it through the month of October: it begins with the starting pitching, but it likely ends with Howard’s bat.
For better or for worse.