The Big Piece has to Carry the Phillies

On 97.5 the Fanatic this past Saturday, they posed an interesting question to Philadelphia Phillies fans: If you had to pick one Phillie from the past decade, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, or Ryan Howard to be on the Phillies all-time Mount Rushmore, (Mount Rushmore lists seem to be the trendy thing lately, thanks LeBron) who would you pick? Philadelphia fans love Chase Utley and Cole Hamels, while often placing tough criticisms on Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard. However, in order for the Phillies to have any type of success this year, both Rollins and Howard have to come up big. As far as the Mount Rushmore question is concerned, the answer is Ryan Howard.

Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, and Chase Utley were all there for most of the Phillies games last year (Utley had stints on the DL, but played in 131 games), however the Big Piece missed over half the season, playing in only 80 games. This is not knocking Rollins, Hamels, and Utley, but in the past the lineup’s production and the team’s success has been at its best when Ryan Howard himself is productive. If the Phillies have any chance of contending this year, they will live and die on the back of Ryan Howard.

There was an interesting stat on Twitter last night from MLB Play Index (@BRefPlayIndex) that said the Phillies are 93-69 in Ryan Howard’s last 162 starts. Obviously this stat is skewed since Howard’s past 162 starts have been in 2013, 2012, and in the tail-end of the 2011 season. The team has gotten older, while players have shuffled in-and-out of the clubhouse, but that still does not take away from what Howard’s presence means to the Phillies.

The Phillies entered last year’s All-Star break 48-48, lost Howard for the remainder of the season and finished 73-89, going 25-41 in the second half of the season. Take it back to 2012 when Howard was out for most of the first half due to injury, and the Phillies went 37-47 without Howard, 44-34 with him. ¬†Point is, the stat from MLB Play Index holds truth and has a direct correlation with the Phillies absence from the postseason the past two seasons.

With Domonic Brown most likely slated behind him in the lineup, pitchers are going give Howard pitches to hit, and it will be up to Howard to deliver. On Saturday when talking to reporters, Howard had confidence in his health, saying “I feel like I can play 162 games” and even threw the 58 home run number out there, the famous total Howard had during his MVP campaign in 2006.

Howard’s confidence in his health and ability is a positive for the Phillies, but there is no other option for Howard. He has to have confidence in himself, or else the Phillies will end up in the cellar of the N.L. East. No analyst or MLB expert is questioning the pitching staff that Ruben Amaro Jr. has put together, they question his aging lineup.

The age of the Phillies lineup will be irrelevant if Ryan Howard puts together a solid season. Last year showed that just getting production from Dom Brown was not enough; Howard has to be at the center of the Phillies lineup producing. He has to put the team on his back, hit for a .270 average with 30+ homers and 100+ RBIs, all of which he is capable of doing.

With health and age questions surrounding the entire Phillies team, they need their Big Piece to stay healthy and productive for the entire season in order to have any hopes of contending.

Image Source: Bleacher Report

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