The Phillies Won a Game Because Ryan Howard Went Yard

The Phillies Won a Game Because Ryan Howard Went Yard

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With a dinger roughly every 13 at bats, Ryan Howard is Major League Baseball's active career leader in home runs per at bat. It took 18 trips to belt his first in 2012, but the timing could not have been much better.

The Big Piece made a new friend out in L.A. on Monday night. With Ted Lilly on the disabled list, 22-year-old Nate Eovaldi has been pressed into the Dodgers' rotation for the past month and a half, and Howard took to the young right-hander immediately. He gave one a ride to the left field wall for a long out on his first at bat. On the second, he finally got it over the top.

That solo shot in the fourth inning proved to be the game's decisive run, as Jimmy Rollins had a blast himself, and Juan Pierre chipped in an RBI in a 3-2 Phillies victory to open the series with Los Angeles. It's the Fightins' third win in a row, for those of you still keeping track.

While Howard will get most of the pub today, Joe Blanton arguably had the biggest hand in a huge win for the Phils. Blanton worked eight tremendous frames, holding the Dodgers to six hits and walking zero. When they did manage to get on the board in the sixth and seventh, Heavy B prevented those from becoming bigger innings, which is the main reason RyHo's homer can stand as the headliner.

The W is number eight of the season for Blanton. Jonathan Papelbon did his thing in the ninth to pick up his 20th save.

However, the story really is Howard, both because he hasn't fared too well in his short time back, but also that it's refreshing to see a visual reminder of the way he can impact games with one swing of the lumber. So far, he's 3-for-20 with a couple of walks.

Let's be honest: it's difficult to set expectations for Ryan Howard this season. The Inquirer's Phil Sheridan wrote yesterday if Piece is on the field and earning $20 million, it's reasonable to expect he perform up to that. Then again, he's not quite healthy, and how long will it take until the timing is there? Probably a lot faster if opposing teams keep feeding him Eovaldis, but we know that's not always the case.

Monday gave us reason to be excited about his progress though. He still has a ways to go obviously, but it appears at the very least Howard is still a danger to fans sitting in outfield seats at ballparks everywhere. These are exactly the kind of big hits the Phillies have missed all too often this year.

Going back to 2004, Ryan Howard homers once every 13.3 at bats. To put that in perspective, that's basically every five games. If he posts a figure even close to that the rest of the way, the Phillies clearly will win more frequently -- and maybe just maybe make this second half interesting after all.

Bovada projects Nets, not Sixers, to finish at bottom of division, conference

Bovada projects Nets, not Sixers, to finish at bottom of division, conference

The Sixers finished in the basement of the NBA standings last season with a league-low 10 wins. But with the influx of young talent and addition of a couple veterans to the roster, the Las Vegas oddsmakers are betting on the Sixers to make some strides upward in the 2016-17 standings.  

Last week, the WestGate Superbook in Las Vegas set the Sixers' over/under for wins this season at an optimistic 27½, which was the fourth-lowest projection in the league.

Similarly, while Bovada is projecting another season of basketball filled with mostly losses in Philadelphia, the sportsbook doesn't view the Sixers as a shoo-in to finish as the league's worst team for the second consecutive year.

Per Bovada, the Sixers have the fourth-longest odds (125/1) to capture the Atlantic Divison title for the first time since 2001-02, beating out the Nets (250/1) by a considerable margin.

The favorite to win the division is the Celtics at 20/21, trailed closely by the defending division champion Raptors (21/20). The Knicks are between the Raptors and Sixers at 10/1.

The Sixers (150/1) also edged out the Nets (200/1) in odds to win the Eastern Conference championship. The two teams in the conference directly ahead of the Sixers in that futures bet are the Hornets (100/1) and Magic (50/1).

The Cavaliers are the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference at 5/11, followed by the Celtics (5/1) and Raptors (14/1).

Least surprising of all futures odds, Bovada has the Sixers tied with four other teams for the longest odds to win the NBA title. The Nuggets, Kings, Nets and Suns were tied with the Sixers at 500/1 odds to win the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy.

The early favorites to win it all are the same two teams that met in the 2016 Finals. The Warriors are alone at top with the shortest odds at 4/5 trailed by the Cavaliers at 3/1.

Pete Mackanin will push to add hitter in meeting with front-office brass Friday

Pete Mackanin will push to add hitter in meeting with front-office brass Friday

ATLANTA — The Phillies entered Tuesday night’s game against the Atlanta Braves — No. 157 of 162 — ranked last in the majors in runs scored (591) and were hanging out near the bottom in a slew of other important offensive categories.
 
The stat sheet says the Phillies need more offense.
 
So does the manager.
 
Pete Mackanin plans to make his case for adding a bat this winter — the best fit would be in the outfield — in an end-of-season meeting with the front office Friday at Citizens Bank Park.
 
“Basically, having talked to the rest of the coaching staff, we’re all pretty much in agreement with what our needs are,” Mackanin said Tuesday afternoon. “I’m anxious to hear from (general manager) Matt Klentak and from (president) Andy MacPhail and if there’s an owner there. We’d like to hear what they have to say. We’re pretty much in agreement on a lot of what we need.
 
“I, for one, think we need at least one hitter that gives you quality at-bats.”
 
There could be hurdles in adding a bat. Money is not one of them. All of the team’s big contracts will be gone when Ryan Howard rides off into the sunset on Sunday. The team that spent over a half-billion in salaries from 2012 to 2014 (and missed the playoffs each time) has plenty of money and has vowed to spend it in due time. But that time might not arrive until team leaders believe the club has built a nucleus that would benefit from the signing of a "finishing" talent or two. The team is committed to building that nucleus from within, and there lies the potential hurdle in adding the difference-making bat that Mackanin craves. Building from within requires eventually giving players from the system an opportunity to prove themselves and grow at the major-league level. The front office, still very much committed to a rebuild, will be cognizant of blocking those players (the list includes Roman Quinn, Nick Williams, Dylan Cozens and others) and their opportunities. Klentak has said as much on several occasions this year.
 
Even Mackanin acknowledged that the situation is a Catch-22.
 
“I know I don’t want to block a prospect that has a chance to be a big part of it,” he said.
 
“But at the same time, I think by having one guy in the middle of the lineup or somewhere in the lineup that can take a little pressure off (Maikel) Franco and (Odubel) Herrera and the rest of them could do wonders. You look at when (Matt) Kemp joined the Braves. They all went off. They’re all hitting. They’ve scored more runs than anybody, I think, since the All-Star break. Last year, with (Yoenis) Cespedes, he joined the Mets and all of a sudden they all started hitting.
 
“I will give those examples. I feel that’s important.”
 
A number of outfield bats will be on the free-agent market this winter. Cespedes could be there if he opts out of his contract with the Mets, but he’s not likely to be interested in joining a rebuilding team and the Phillies are unlikely to want the long-term commitment a player like that would require. Dexter Fowler and Matt Holiday could be free agents if their options for 2017 are not exercised. Ian Desmond will be out there, but the Rangers will probably look to retain him. Jose Bautista, Josh Reddick, Brandon Moss and Colby Rasmus will also be out there. Martin Prado is the type of “professional hitter” that would appeal to Mackanin, but he agreed to a three-year contract extension with the Miami Marlins on Tuesday.