PhilsMonth! – Ryan Howard Makes Baseball Fun…Briefly


Welcome to PhilsMonth! A fun* look back at the past month for everyone’s favorite baseball team – the Philadelphia Phillies!

* Amount of fun experienced may vary

For a short time, it looked like May was going to end up as a much better month for the Phillies. There was a six-game winning streak, and for a short time, it was actually kind of fun to be a Phillies fan again.

Those good times did not continue. The team ended the month on a bit of a down note, having lost their last seven games, and nine of their last ten.

Super Important Storyline of May: Ryan Howard is Good Again! Or…at Least He Was for a Little While

It’s been sad to watch the decline of Ryan Howard. It can sometimes be difficult to remember, but there was a time when Howard was the most feared slugger in the game. You didn’t ever want to miss a Howard at bat, because you knew there was a decent chance he’d send a ball soaring over the fence.

May 18, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard (6) during the game against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off of a poor 2014 season, Howard got off to a rough start in 2015. His batting average sat below .200 at the end of April, and it seemed increasingly likely that the team might choose to simply release him.

Then something strange happened: Howard started hitting again. He unleashed a three-week stretch of baseball that would have felt right at home during his prime years. During that stretch, Howard hit six home runs, and boosted his batting average by over 80 points. Not coincidentally, as Howard began to pound the ball, the Phillies offense picked up and the team began to win some games.

Suddenly, it wasn’t quite as depressing to watch Phillies games. The Phillies were actually scoring some runs, and Howard’s plate appearances once again became “must watch” events.

Unfortunately, those good times didn’t continue. Howard’s bat went cold again, as he finished May mired in a 1-20 slump.

It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that the team’s losing streak has coincided with Howard’s slump. Much has changed with the Phillies, but it seems as if they’re still dependent on “The Big Piece” to carry their offense.

Phlashback of Phutility: J.R. Phillips

J.R. Phillips began his career with the burden of heavy expectations. In 1994, the San Francisco Giants named the highly touted rookie their starting first baseman. Sounds good, right? The only problem was that he was replacing one of the team’s all-time great players in Will Clark.

Phillips didn’t exactly prove to be an adequate replacement. In 1996, after almost three years of offensive futility, the Giants pretty much gave him away to the Phillies. The 1996 Phillies were a very bad team…which meant that Phillips fit right in.

On the bright side, Phillips hit two home runs in a game against the Expos. My mother also liked the way he played first base, noting that he seemed to stretch well for the ball. And that’s about it in terms of positive accomplishments.

Once it became clear that Phillips could absolutely not hit a major league breaking ball, the team sent him to the minor leagues. At the end of the season, he became a free agent, and the team didn’t make much of an effort to keep him.

Secondary Storyline: Cody Asche is Back! And this Time, He’s a Left Fielder!

Cody Asche. Image Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Remember Cody Asche? Once upon a time, the Phillies were talking him up as the third baseman of the future. Some people went as far as to compare him to Chase Utley. (As far as I can tell, this is because both men are white, left-handed hitting infielders for the Phillies. Aside from that, they really don’t have much in common.)

It appears that Asche is no longer the team’s third baseman of the future. He’s now the team’s left fielder of the future!

The team sent him down to the minors so that he could learn to play left field. Apparently, he’s either a quick study, or the team figures he can learn just as well in the major leagues, as he’s already been recalled and appears to be the team’s regular left fielder.

It’s not clear if Asche will ever hit or field well enough to be an everyday player on a playoff team. But considering they have a seemingly better and younger prospect at third base now, it certainly doesn’t hurt to try to make Asche more versatile. He might have a future as a Greg Dobbs-like utility player.

Statistical Oddity

Were Chase Utley and Freddy Galvis involved in some sort of “Freaky Friday” body-switching incident? Did Utley (I’m assuming that Utley would have been the one who wanted to reverse this) find a way to undo the situation on May 8th?

The Good News

Thanks to that hot streak, it’s no longer completely implausible that the Phillies might be able to trade Howard.

The Bad News

A Howard trade still seems very unlikely. Perhaps the most frightening aspect of a Howard trade is that the team might not have an adequate replacement for him at first base.

Tweet of Importance

We’ll always have that time you dropped a fly ball, Grady! And of course, your dreamy good looks will live on in our hearts forever.

What’s Ahead

In his prime, Howard would often heat up when the weather did. Does this mean we might see another hot streak during the summer months? Or is that too much to hope for?

Next: Eagles Roundtable: Trade or Cut Evan Mathis?

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