As the Phightin’ Phils remain in the thick of the wild-card race, one thing has become apparent, while many may consider Chase Utley the unquestioned leader of the Phillies (and I concede to that notion); if the Phillies become the wild-card team in the National League, first baseman Ryan Howard should be strongly considered for the NL MVP.
Howard’s display of power at the plate has not been seen around these parts since Greg “The Bull” Luzinski, his uncanny ability to hit close to half of his home runs to the opposite field validates that.
In only his second major league season, the reigning NL Rookie of the Year currently leads the Majors with 53 home runs and 135 RBIs. Howard had been the power source of a Phillies team that in struggled in April and June. But they have stayed the course and are currently a 1Ã?Â½ game out of the top wild-card spot. For the month of August the Phils were 19-10, and what lies ahead for the Phillies is a schedule that is favorable for the remainder of the season. In the 24 games that remain the Phils do not face a team with a winning record. The opponents; the Astros, Braves, Cubs, Marlins and Nationals all trail the Phils in the wild-card race.
But getting back to Howard, who in August alone has hit 14 home runs and has 41 RBIs (a personal season high for one month) has put his team on his back and when needed come through in the clutch whether it’s a grand slam in a losing effort against the division leading Mets or a two-run double against the basement dwelling Nationals, Ryan has stepped up his game and in the process broken the club’s single-season home run mark held by Phillies’ great Mike Schmidt that has stood for 26 seasons. During a time where every record that falls comes with speculation of performance-enhancing drug usage, it’s safe to say that Howard is a player who uses natural strength to power the ball anywhere he sees fit.
But two seasons ago how many of us thought it would be Howard?
When the Phillies acquired Jim Thome in 2003 many of us thought that we had the next great home run hitter in Phillies history, and we did. Thome hit 96 home runs for the Phillies between 2003 and 2005, including 47 in 2003 falling one short of the club mark. Many of us, including Schmidt thought that Thome would break the record and finish his career in Phillies’ pinstripes. Back in minors, Howard was breaking home run and RBI records, the Phils’ had a minor dilemma on their hands that was going to become a bigger one in 2005.
In 2005, Thome was limited to 59 games due to a nagging back injury; Howard was called up on May 3, 2005 and has not looked back. Howard hit 22 home runs and 63 RBIs on his way to becoming NL rookie of the year. The Phils came up a game short for the wild-card and the Phils future at first base had yet to be decided.
During the off-season there was speculation as to who should remain Thome or Howard, Aging Star or Potential Superstar. It was a pretty even split because those who favored Thome felt that he was an accomplished player and was suffering his first major injury and would bounce back. Those favoring Howard looked at his 2005 numbers and contended that the future core of the Phillies needed to be put into place now. Utley was here Cole Hamels was coming up; Jimmy Rollins wasn’t going anywhere and what if Thome didn’t come back at 100%?
The first major move of new GM Pat Gillick was trading Jim Thome to the Chicago White Sox for centerfielder Aaron Rowand, the move took a lot of guts on the part of Gillick but showed everyone what direction the ball club was headed in.
In 2006 Howard added the Home Run Challenge Championship to his mantle during All-Star festivities in Pittsburgh. Howard also made his first of hopefully many All-Star appearances.
Will a NL MVP and a chance to become Philly’s Mr. October be far behind? He has my vote.
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