Ryan Howard’s rough year

Ryan Howard tried to be optimistic before the season as he came back from a difficult injury, but 2013 has been a tough year so for. His numbers are way down, with .266 batting average and 11 home runs as we come up to the All Star break, and now Scott Miller is piling on as he puts together his anti-All Star team of the season’s biggest disappointments.

Few are in dire need of ice packs as much as Howard — both for his knee and his numbers — so we can only wish him Godspeed on his impending knee surgery. Hope he returns on the short end of the six-to-eight weeks he’s expected out.

Before landing on the disabled list this month, Howard, at $20 million this year, essentially was reduced to platoon status. Against lefties, he’s hitting .173 with a .218 on-base percentage. That’s not hitting. That’s praying.

The Phillies’ frustration with their Big Man reached such epic proportions that general manager Ruben Amaro borrowed a page from the Brian Cashman Book of Calling Out a Player. Minus the F-bomb.

“If Ryan Howard is now relegated to being a platoon player, he’s a very expensive platoon player and he needs to be better,” Amaro told Philadelphia radio station WIP earlier this month. “I think he knows it. I know he’s struggling. I know he’s not happy with his performance. Neither are we. I think he’s going to be better, but right now, he’s just not doing the job.”

Josh Hamilton is another of the many prominent players on this list.

Howard is on the disabled list now, and we’ll see if he finds a way to turn his season around.

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Ryan Howard working to get back old form

It’s been a miserable year for the Philadelphia Phillies. With the success in Philadelphia in recent years, the expectations of Phillie fans has been in the clouds, but reality set in for the 2012 season. Too many things have gone wrong to mention, but the absence of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley for a huge chunk of the season will usually lead any such discussion.

Fortunately for Philadelphia fans, both players are back, and both seem to be making significant progress towards reclaiming their leadership roles.

With Ryan Howard, the hill to climb is particularly steep as he works his way back from a serious Achilles injury. We’ve seen some incredible hitters in this generation, but Howard immediately started to put together a Hall of Fame caliber career from his first season when he won the Rookie of the Tear award. The next year, he put together one of the all-time great offensive seasons on the way to winning the MVP award. In 2006, Howard hit 58 home runs, drove in 149 runs and hit .313 with a 1.084 OPS! After only seven full seasons he was already closing in on 300 home runs and on the fast track to the Hall. Along the way he helped the Phillies to two World Series appearances and one title, so regardless of what happens next the fans in Philly will always love him.

Now coming off the injury last season, Howard doesn’t seem to be full strength, but he still has that beautiful swing. While the 2012 season is lost for the team, it’s giving Ryan a chance to work his way back into top form. Utley is also working his way back, so things should be looking up for 2013.

As for Howard and the Hall of Fame, it will be hard for him to replicate his unbelievable stretch from 2006 to 2009, when over four seasons he averaged almost 50 home runs and over 145 RBIs per season. But he should easily get back to his numbers of recent years with over 30 home runs and over 100 RBIs, and if he keeps that up for a while he’ll waltz into the Hall of Fame.

Howard is one of those players that most people root for. He’s had some fun with his celebrity status, like making an appearance on Entourage as on of the prospective investors in Turtle’s business ventures, but he’s stayed grounded. He’s in the middle of a long-term deal, so he’ll probably be in Philadelphia for a long time. Let’s hope he ends his career there.

5 baseball questions with singer/songwriter Ari Hest

New York City based singer/songwriter Ari Hest has a very passionate fan base, one that helped choose the songs for his 2009 release, Twelve Mondays. Hest is back with a brand new album of new material, Sunset Over Hope Street, and as always, this prolific songwriter has delivered another set of stellar songs that can maybe best be described as alternative pop.

And speaking of passionate, Hest is a huge fan of the New York Yankees, and we had the chance to catch up with him while he’s on tour in support of Sunset Over Hope Street, to ask him some questions about the 2010 baseball season complete with predictions:

The Scores Report: So how do you feel about the Yankees’ chances this year as a whole–and where you do expect them to end up in the standings and why?

Ari Hest: I think the Yanks will finish first in the division, but I have doubts about them beating Texas in the playoffs. The pitching isn’t quite what it used to be.

TSR: What do you think about the starting rotation and do you think the Yankees can get by with Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia as the 4 and 5 starters, or will that offense just bludgeon opponents anyway?

AH: Actually I think they will win around 90 games and still take the division, so neither their pitching nor offense will be anything special — only enough to win the division.

TSR: How many years do you think Mariano Rivera can effectively pitch?

AH: I think somewhere around 2046 he’ll retire. He’s only 43 now.

TSR: What are your long-range predictions for who will meet in the World Series and why?

AH: World Series this year: Phillies beat Rangers in 7 games, since both teams are stacked. Nobody can beat that Philly pitching in a short series.

TSR: What are your predictions for AL and NL MVP?

AH: AL – Josh Hamilton and NL – Ryan Howard

Bonus question, TSR: Do you think the NFL labor situation will be settled before September?

AH: I really hope so. It’s so lame. And the fans get hurt the most.

For more information on Ari Hest music and tour dates, please visit www.arihest.com. And maybe we’ll check back with Ari at the end of the season to see how things shook out.

How will Chase Utley’s injury affect the Phillies in 2011?

Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley walks across the field after taking batting practice before a spring training game against the Baltimore Orioles at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Florida, March 8, 2011. REUTERS/Steve Nesius (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

The unsurprising happened on Thursday: Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. confirmed that second baseman Chase Utley will begin the season on the disabled list.

The thought of beginning the year without Utley is something the Phillies have been bracing for all spring. He hasn’t seen the field once yet in exhibition and with Opening Day only a week away, him starting the year on the DL was the most likely outcome.

Replacing Utley in the lineup is an impossible task. The Phillies recently signed Luis Castillo (formerly of the Mets), but he went 0-for-4 in his Philadelphia debut and may not even make the team if he continues to hit around .250 this spring. Of course, the other candidates to take Utley’s spot don’t look any better. Wilson Valdez is hitting just .239 is a 32-year-old journeyman who has only played in 247 major league games since making his first appearance in ‘04, while Josh Barfield has showed his versatility this spring but he’s still behind Valdez on the depth chart.

As of right now, the Phillies aren’t saying when Utley will return because quite frankly, they probably don’t even know. If he winds up missing the rest of the season, the loss of him and Jayson Werth (Nationals) gives the rest of Philly’s offense a small margin for error. Given that Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino are coming off poor seasons and Placido Polanco and Rual Ibanez are in the twilights of their careers, this is going to be a huge year for Ryan Howard (who must carry the offense).

So what happens to the Phillies’ chances of winning the World Series? Thanks to their loaded pitching staff, they’re still the clear favorites in the NL. But the Braves are a big threat in the division and there’s a certain championship team out West that treated Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt like mortals in the postseason last year.

Of course, the Giants won the World Series last year with pitching and the Phillies have more offense than San Fran did – even without Utley. But the Giants’ hitters also got extremely hot at the right time and this is a Philadelphia club that has been known to come out of the gates slow before picking it up in the second half. Considering they might not have Utley all season, they better kick it into gear right away. Without Utley roaming second base in Philadelphia, the playing field certainly evens out more in the National League.

Giants making the right decision to start Jonathan Sanchez in Game 2

San Francisco Giants pitcher Jonathan Sanchez delivers a pitch to the Atlanta Braves in Game 3 of their MLB National League Division Series baseball playoff game in Atlanta, Georgia October 10, 2010.  REUTERS/Tami Chappell (UNITED STATESSPORT - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

Every manager would love to have the problem Bruce Bochy currently has. He has to set his rotation for the NLCS (which starts this Saturday in Philadelphia) and even though Matt Cain is arguably the Giants’ second best pitcher, he won’t be starting in Game 2.

That responsibility falls on Jonathan Sanchez, one of two lefties San Francisco will throw at the Phillies’ struggling lineup in the best-of-seven-game series. (Rookie Madison Bumgarner is the other.) Sanchez will get the nod over Cain because Bochy prefers to go righty (Tim Lincecum), lefty (Sanchez), righty (Cain), lefty (Bumgarner), when laying out his rotation.

It’s the right move given the Phillies’ lineup and the ballpark they play in. Chase Utley is a left-handed hitter, as is Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez. All three of them can hit for power and given the Little League stadium that they play in, they can do some damage against a hard-throwing pitcher like Cain who relies on his fastball.

But Sanchez’s go-to pitch is his slider, which is much harder to hit out of the ballpark than a fastball. In other words, he’s the better pitcher to throw at Citizens Bank Park (where Game 2 will be played) and considering he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning against the Braves in Atlanta on Sunday, he obviously doesn’t have any qualms about pitching on the road in a pressure situation. (Although that certainly wasn’t the case earlier in his career when he was an emotional roller coaster in every start.)

The Giants have a huge mountain to climb if they want to reach the World Series. The Phillies have the best collection of talent of all of the remaining teams and their pitching staff is expected to put the clamps down on San Fran’s offense, just as the Braves’ starters were able to do in the NLDS. That means the Giants’ spectacular pitching staff will have to be even more spectacular (maybe even perfect) if this club hopes to move on.

But Bochy can only put his players in the best position to win and then trust that they’ll execute. There’s a possibility that Sanchez could get destroyed in Philadelphia and then Cain blows it in Game 3. However, in setting his rotation the way he is, he’s arguably giving the Giants their best chance to win. Now they just have to go out and execute.

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