Philadelphia Phillies’ Ryan Howard- a Possible MVP?

The Philadelphia Phillies have one of baseball’s premier sluggers in mammoth first baseman Ryan Howard. The 26 year old first baseman, in his second year in the National League, has broken out of a logjam to take over the home run lead; Ryan Howard has 46 homers as of this writing. Ryan Howard has been instrumental in the Phillies attempt to secure a wild-card playoff spot, as they now stand just a game and a half behind the Reds for a post-season shot. But if the Phillies are to continue their advance, Ryan Howard must be the one to carry them.

The Phillies traded away outfielder Bobby Abreu and pitcher Corey Lidle to the Yankees right before the trade deadline, picking up a quartet of minor leaguers. Ryan Howard and the rest of the Phillies were thought to be dead in the water after that move, but have since played themselves into contention. A 16-9 August thus far has propelled the Phillies out of a pack of wild card pretenders to the top of the heap chasing Cincinnati, just as Ryan Howard separated himself from the home run leaders with 11 home runs in those 25 contests. The left-handed hitting Ryan Howard, drafted by the Phillies in 2001 out of Southwest Missouri State University, also has 34 runs batted in over this span. He and second baseman Chase Utley have been the keys to the Phillies’ offense, as they are both having outstanding years.

Ryan Howard already has a total of 121 RBI this season, as he has drastically improved on his Rookie of the Year numbers from 2005. His emergence as a power hitter last season allowed Philadelphia to send Jim Thome to the White Sox in exchange for centerfielder Aaron Rowand. Now entrenched at first base, Ryan Howard is a younger version of Boston’s David Ortiz. He is six-foot five and listed at 230 pounds, and the powerful Ryan Howard has hit some monstrous long balls in his less than two full campaigns. This past April, Ryan Howard hit a Ruthian 496 foot homer off of the Marlins’ Sergio Mitre, the longest ball ever hit at Philadelphia’s Citizens’ Bank Park. When the Yankees came to town for inter-league competition in June, Ryan Howard swatted one into the third deck in right field off of Mike Mussina, the only player to reach that area in the stadium’s brief history.

As one might suspect from a young power hitter, Ryan Howard strikes out an awful lot. He has fanned 148 times so far this season, second most in baseball behind the Reds’ Adam Dunn, and almost thirty more than Jim Thome, who is in the top ten of all-time in whiffing. Ryan Howard has only walked 67 times, but the bases on balls will increase over the years as he learns to be more patient. Defensively, Ryan Howard is no Don Mattingly at first base, having committed 13 errors so far in 2006, easily the most of any first sacker in Major League Baseball. But here too Ryan Howard should improve with time.

The Phillies aren’t paying Ryan Howard for his glove anyway. They need him to sit in the middle of their order and sock home runs as he has been doing. Ryan Howard is one deep fly away from leading all of baseball, as only Boston’s Ortiz has as many as he does, with 46. Ryan Howard has shown the ability to hit the ball out to any field. In this past All-Star Game’s Home Run Derby in Pittsburgh, Ryan Howard sent 23 balls flying over the fences to emerge victorious, defeating the Mets’ David Wright in the final round. The last ball Ryan Howard crushed over the wall hit a Mastercard sign in right center, allowing one lucky fan to receive 500 free airplane flights!

Philadelphia does not play a team with a winning record after August 27th so they have a great opportunity to make the post-season despite trailing New York by double digits in the NL East.. Ryan Howard should easily eclipse the team record of 48 home runs, set by Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt in 1980. Ryan Howard, if he maintains his lead in the NL home run race, which is currently at 4 over the Nationals’ Alfonso Soriano, will become the first Phillies’ player since Schmidt twenty years ago to lead the league in dingers. His 121 runs batted in are now 14 more than the Cardinals’ Albert Pujols; Ryan Howard would be the first Phillie since Darren Daulton in 1992 to capture the circuit’s RBI crown. A Triple Crown is not going to happen this year, as Ryan Howard’s .293 average is well below the league’s best, but if he cuts down his strikeouts and begins to walk more, who knows what the future could hold. The immediate future holds a possible National League Most Valuable Player Award for Ryan Howard, if his slugging ways can get them into the 2006 playoffs.

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