The Inquirer ran an interesting table today comparing this year's team at the half-way point with the teams from 2008 and 2009. Three things jumped out.
One. All three teams had identical records at this juncture of the season.
Two. Ryan Howard is having a terrific season. More on that in a moment.
Three. Chase Utley is having a poor season. Everything in his production has been down: hits, runs, home runs, rbi's, on base percentage. He has also made more errors.
The popular perspective on Howard is that his power numbers are way down from previous years. At least one commentator on ESPN said he was having a "terrible year". The truth is he is having a terrific season comparisons notwithstanding and an astonishing year given how many fewer players ahead of him are getting on base.
Howard has improved his defense, put many more balls into play, is hitting home runs at a pace to give him at least 30 for the season and driving in runs at a pace to give him nearly 120 at year's end. All this with the three guys ahead of him underperforming dramatically in comparison to previous years. The exception to those three guys has been Placido Polanco, but he has missed 20 games. When Polly has been out his substitute isn't getting on base regularly.
So, whatever else one says, get off Howard's case.
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Last night was a microcosm of what I just said. The Phillies did not hit. Other than Ibanez' two-run shot in the first inning, the Phils didn't manage another run until Howard tripled in the seventh inning with a man on and no outs to knot the score at 3 apiece.. The rest of the team failed to get him home and the Phils ended up losing in eleven innings, 6-3. Forget what the pitching staff did or didn't do. The Phils got three hits on the night and that was the story line.