Tag Archives: Ryan Howard

Howard’s Struggles Are Not From a Lack of Effort

14 Aug

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard has struggled at the plate this season.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard has struggled at the plate this season.
Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—Last Sunday, Ryan Howard drove in the winning run with a walk-off single to cap a 7-6 come from behind victory over the New York Mets.

In a season where Howard has been struggling and getting booed by whoever shows up at Citizen’s Bank Park, it was refreshing to see No. 6 carry his team to victory the way he did during the Phillies remarkable five-year run of division titles that included a World Series championship.

The 2014 season has been the worst for Howard in a non-injury season. He is batting an anemic .219 with 18 home runs and 73 runs batted in (third in the National League). Even with Sunday’s game-winning hit, Howard is batting just .223 with runners in scoring position. He was benched for three games this by manager Ryne Sandberg.

On the Phillies last homestand, Howard had four game-winning hits while batting .266 with a pair of home runs.

There have been calls by fans and media folks for him to be traded. If it wasn’t for his hefty $25-million per year salary, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. might have sent him packing.

The hard part of watching Howard go through his struggles at the plate is that it’s not for a lack of effort on his part. Leg and foot injuries, especially those to the knees and Achilles, take their toll on athletes and it takes them time to be back at 100 percent.

That was something that Howard said he was going through when I spoke to him about it back in June.

“Once you suffer a big injury, it does take a little bit of time for the normal aches and pains that you used to have before your injuries to become commonplace,” said Howard, who hasn’t played beyond 80 games since 2011. “Now as my body is starting to go through all that stuff, it’s re-learning how to work its way through.”

But fans aren’t going to buy that. When they see Howard strike-out with the bases loaded, they will point to his $25 million per year salary and say that’s not what he should be doing whether he’s hurt or not. They are going to show their displeasure through booing or calling for the team to run him out of town on sports talk radio or social media.

That’s a burden Howard has carried during his time here in Philly. It’s the monster created from 2005 to 2011 when it was his home runs and runs batted in that led the Phillies to a remarkable run that included a World Series championship.

Howard doesn’t have the luxury being the gritty, blue collar player who is gamely trying to fight through his injuries after missing most of the last two years coming into this season. The fact that he leads his team in runs batted in and is third in RBIs in the National League is of no consequence to Phillies fans.

What I find fascinating is that during those periods when fan favorite Chase Utley was fighting through his injuries and not performing at his best, he didn’t get the same kind of acrimony that Howard has gotten during his struggles.

But as much I like and respect Utley, he is able to play the blue-collar superstar role because the real burden of moving and shaking the Phillies offense over the years was on Howard who was the main reason for the Phillies success when they were on top of the division standings.

Howard’s recent complaints about fans booing him were not so much about the fans themselves, but it was more about the frustration within himself of not being able to help his team the way he once did.

I think Howard has more aches and pains that are affecting his performance than he is telling anyone including his team. If he points to it, he will be seen as a $25 million a year whiner. So Howard will do what he always does—soldier through it with his best effort while hearing the boos along the way.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Game 81: Phillies Drowning Themselves at the Halfway Point of the Season

29 Jun

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

 

Phillies Manager Ryne Sandberg feels his team has to improve in every aspect the game.

Phillies Manager Ryne Sandberg feels his team has to improve in every aspect the game.

PHILADELPHIA—At about this time last week when the Phillies went 5-2 on their last road trip, including a three-game sweep of the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field.

All of sudden there was some optimism for a hot minute in the City of Brotherly Love, especially since the Phillies are within striking distance of the leaders in the National League East even looking up from last place.

Unfortunately for the Phillies, this current homestand brought us back to a stark reality that they are still going nowhere fast. It reminds me of the two Japanese groundskeepers in the movie, “Major League,” who kept saying their team was “still sh—ty.”

Since winning five straight last week, the Phillies have lost seven of their last nine games including today’s double-header sweep at the hands of the Atlanta Brave at the Citizen’s Bank Park Saturday afternoon and evening.

The Phillies lost the first game 10-3 and the second game 5-1 to sink themselves further down in the National League East race. They haven’t been able to score more than three runs in the first three games of this series. They were 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position in the second game of the double-header.

“It is disappointing we came with momentum, a winning streak,” said Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg. “We could have won another game against the Marlins, but these last three games. … It was a tough for sure. It was a lot of things a lack of offense, a big inning there on the pitching side of things and not so good play on defense.”

The Phillies are nine games below .500 at the true halfway point of the season-game No. 81. It’s the same old problems for the Phillies—lack of hitting, poor defense and pitching, though that aspect of their game has improved significantly. Uniting the three kingdoms of offense, pitching and defense on a consistent basis has been a monumental struggle for the Phillies (36-45).

“We have to do things differently,” Sandberg said. “We definitely have to have more opportunities to score runs and then we have to actually score runs. We have to be more consistent in putting the pitching and the defense together.”

In the Phillies last nine games, they are hitting just .139 with runners in scoring position. Sandberg said he still believes his team is good enough to contend, but they have to play fundamental baseball, something they don’t do on a regular basis.

“We can definitely sharpen up on just playing clean baseball and execute in situational things,” Sandberg said. “The starting pitching has to be consistent, but we have to play good defense behind that pitching.”

In the first game of the twin-bill, first baseman Ryan Howard committed two errors that led to a pair of unearned runs that got the Braves back into the game after the Phillies had taken a 2-0 lead. The bullpen gave up five runs in the eighth.

Centerfielder Ben Revere said despite the Phillies current run of misfortune, the team is still capable of putting together a solid run to get back in the race. At the rate they are losing and the way they are playing, it just doesn’t seem to be possible that the Phillies can turn it around.

“We can go on a roll at any time, win a couple series and sweep a couple of good teams and we’re right back in it,” Revere said. “We have to keep battling. We’re at the halfway point, but it’s a long season and we have the team to do that.”

They better to do it quick because the season is not far from being on life support, if it’s not there already.

 

Phillies Inconsistent Offense Gives Them Little Chance to Win

15 Jun

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is 3-for-15 in his last five games. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is 3-for-15 in his last five games. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—If you look at the standings coming into Sunday’s games, you notice that the last place Phillies are five and a half games behind the first-place Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals in the National League East standings.

The Braves and Nationals aren’t world beaters because they’re both just three games above .500.

When you see where the Phillies are, you get the feeling that if they can start playing with more consistency, they can get right back in the pennant race and all will be right with the world.

Right? (crickets)

At 29-38, the Phillies are what their record says they are a last place team that runs hot and cold, mostly cold. In this last homestand, the Phillies swept the San Diego Padres, but then lose two out of three to the last-place Chicago Cubs.

The starting pitching and the relief pitching have improved over the last month or so. The offense has been woefully inconsistent. They’ve been shut out nine times including seven times at home.

In Sunday’s 3-0 loss to the Cubs, the Phillies managed to get just three hits and three walks off Chicago starter Travis Wood, a pitcher who didn’t get past the fifth inning when the teams met in April.

“We’ve been hot and cold and inconsistent on a string of games on the offensive side of things,” said Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg. “Everybody’s had a chance, everybody’s had opportunities, we just haven’t able to put numbers on the board consistently. … It’s about picking it up on the offense. ”

That was something that really bothered Sandberg who said that Wood was putting balls over the plate, but his team couldn’t get any wood on the ball. The Phillies were hitless until the sixth inning.

“He pitched up in the zone and got away with it,” Sandberg said. “We couldn’t get on top of him. Those are balls if you get on top, you can drive them. He got away with pitching up… For us not to make an adjustment and get on top of some balls when a guy pitches up, those are hittable balls.”

Over the next 35 games including their next road trip through Atlanta and St. Louis, the Phillies are going to be facing teams that can score runs and with the way they’ve haven’t scored runs this could be a stretch of games that is going to determine whether they’re going to be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline.

“If we pick it up on the offensive side of things,” Sandberg said. “We have to play to a different level and we have to do things better to get through this stretch.”

That’s been the hard part for a Phillies team that can’t seem to put anything together. The maddening part about this is that they are still in the race, at least for now. I guess you can hang your hopes on that possibility.

Looking at the way this team has played this season, I don’t see it and I’m not buying it. With this team’s luck, they might go on a tear on offense only to have the starting pitching or the relief pitching go into a slump.

Let’s face it when you can’t perform well enough in every phase of the game on a consistent basis, you are grossly mediocre or just bad. The Phillies, even with all the veterans, are just a bad team right now. As much as I like the Jimmy Rollins and the Chase Utley’s of the world, they may be on contending teams by August if they don’t start winning soon.

“Every game is big from here on out,” Utley said. “I definitely believe things can get better. There are guys in this room that want to get better.”

The Ultimate Spark Plug: Jimmy Rollins Becomes the Phillies All-Time Leader in Hits

15 Jun

Mike Schmidt Thinks Rollins could be an Hall of Famer

http://espn.go.com/blog/jayson-stark/post/_/id/819/jimmy-rollins-unique-hall-of-fame-case
By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Jimmy Rollins surpassed Mike Schmidt on the Phillies all-time hits list in Saturday's 7-4 win over the Chicago Cubs. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Jimmy Rollins surpassed Mike Schmidt on the Phillies all-time hits list in Saturday’s 7-4 win over the Chicago Cubs. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—When you’re writing the history of the Phillies between 2007 and 2011, a period that saw five National League East titles, one World Series title, and two National League pennants, you have to start with shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

Starting with the 2007 season, Rollins boldly proclaimed the Phillies as “the team to beat.” I remember everybody including a few of my colleagues in the media thought he was crazy. Rollins backed it up with an MVP season while leading the Phillies to the first of their five division titles.

After all, that’s what a lead-off hitter is supposed to do and Rollins was definitely the spark during that run.

“When it comes to the come down, he loves to be in that situation,” said teammate Ryan Howard.

Rollins solidified his place in Phillies history Saturday by becoming the team’s all-time leaders in hits with 2,335 hits surpassing legendary Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt. The big hit came in the fifth inning of the Phillies 7-4 win over the Chicago Cubs Saturday in front of 31,524 fans at Citizen’s Bank Park.

In typical fashion, Rollins’ record-breaking hit came leading off an inning in which the Phillies scored three runs. It was reminiscent of how his MVP season of 2007 ignited the most successful run of postseason appearances in the history of the franchise.

He got it started.

“I was able to use that time to propel the team and be part of something special,” Rollins said. “I was able to pile up a bunch of hits, but at the end of the day, it was really more about winning championships. When you’re around one organization and you’re productive, you’re going to be able to accomplish some pretty cool things and this is one of the things along the way.”

Jimmy Rollins takes questions from the media after breaking Mike Schmidt's all-time hits record. Photo by Chris Murray

Jimmy Rollins takes questions from the media after breaking Mike Schmidt’s all-time hits record. Photo by Chris Murray

In 15 seasons in the red pinstripes, the 35-year-old Rollins has had a remarkable career with the Phillies and will no doubt have his number up on the Phillies Wall of Fame along with Schmidt and Richie Ashburn.

“I’ve had the opportunity to see a lot of hits first hand from Jimmy and he’s a special kind of player,” said second baseman Chase Utley. “I’m happy for him, it’s well deserved, playing a tough position for as many years as he has and to be able to have the success that he has is pretty special.”

Some observers including Schmidt believe that Rollins could be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. A recent ESPN.com article pointed out that Rollins is one of six shortstops in the history of baseball to have over 2,000 hits and four or more Gold Gloves. He is fourth on the major league list for career lead off homeruns with 46.

“I think right now Jimmy’s stock is pretty high right now,” Schmidt told reporters after watching Rollins break his record. “I think if Jimmy retired at the end of this season, I think he’d get some serious Hall-of-Fame consideration right now.

“He’s got two or three years. He’s got some work to do. If he does that work, if he plays 140 games, gets 160 to 180 hits or maybe even a strong year or MVP year, I think he’s almost first ballot consideration for the Hall of Fame.”

Rollins said he takes it as a compliment that a great player of Schmidt’s caliber sees him as a Hall of Famer.

“To hear that from him, it made me smile,” Rollins said. “I thought it was pretty cool. I got his vote. It shows how much (Schmidt) respects what I do on the field, what I mean to this team and what I mean to the organization and I will really appreciate it.”

If there is something even harder than making it to the Hall of Fame for Rollins was living up to the tradition of great players that have come out of the Bay Area of San Francisco/Oakland. Some of those Bay area players include Hall of Famers like Joe DiMaggio, Frank Robinson, Joe Morgan and Rickey Henderson.

Rollins, who grew up in Oakland, said there was hard to live up to the deeds ofthose legendary players from his hometown. He said he’s talked to some of those players over the years.

“I’ve been able to accomplish some things that they have and I’m very proud of that,” Rollins said. “In all honest y, there was a lot of pressure knowing that tradition. It was like am I going to ever live up to that? I’ve been able to accomplish some things that I’m proud of when I talk to them.”

 

Brignac’s Walk-Off Homer Picks Up Brilliant Effort By Hamels

12 Jun

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Phillies Reid Brignac's walk-off three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth backed up a brilliant performance by Cole Hamels.

Phillies Reid Brignac’s walk-off three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth backed up a brilliant pitching performance by Cole Hamels.

PHILADELPHIA–For eight innings, it was looking like another brilliant outing for Cole Hamels was going by the wayside because of another anemic performance by the Phillies offense, which only had more than two runners on base in just one inning prior to the bottom of the ninth.

Hamels had another gem of a night on the mound for the Phillies. In eight innings, he allowed no runs on five hits with a season-high 11 strikeouts and just one walk while throwing 115 pitches. He also moved past Jim Bunning in sole possession of third place on the Phillies all-time strikeout list.

Thanks to Reid Brignac’s walk-off three-run homer to right field in the bottom of the ninth, the Phillies came away with a 3-0 win over the San Diego Padres on a cool Wednesday night in front of 25,398 fans at Citizen’s Bank Park.

“(Hamels) was really sharp with his command, real good fast balls, changeups,” said Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg.“He’s looking real good and he’s had some good starts for us. ”

While Brignac’s heroics at the plate was definitely important, it was the Phillies pitching that kept the Padres off the scoreboard for the entire game. Closer Jonathan Papelbon got the win in relief, but it was Hamels’ efforts that laid the foundation for this win.

Cole Hamels had a season-high 11 strikeouts in the win over San Diego.

Cole Hamels had a season-high 11 strikeouts in the win over San Diego.

“Cole pitched outstanding tonight and really kept us in the game all night and kept their hitters off balance,” said Brignac, whose last walk-off homer came while he was a member of the Tampa Bay Rays. “He was the true winner in this game.”

On a night when the Phillies three, four, and five hitters—Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Marlon Byrd went a combined 1-for-10—it was the guys near the bottom of the order that got things going in the bottom of the ninth. First, left fielder Domonic Brown got a one-out walk off reliever Nick Vincent, who then hit Carlos Ruiz to put him on first.

With runners on first and second, Brignac then crushed a 2-0 cut fastball into the right field seats to put the game into the win column for a Phillies team that needs to put together a string of wins if they have any hope of getting back into playoff contention.

“It’s all about the team winning,” Hamels said. “No matter who gets the “W” next to their name as long as it’s next to the team, it’s everybody’s. We’re trying to claw tooth and nail to get back to where our potential is and where we feel we need to be to competitive. The opportunities are here we need to take it.”

In the fourth inning, things got a little tough for Hamels when the Padres loaded the bases with two outs. But Hamels shut down the Padres threat by striking out center fielder Cameron Maybin. He said that getting out of that threat was a matter of making good pitches.

“Getting into the game, it’s go time, you just go out and execute,” Hamels said. “I feel like I’ve been able to execute a lot more from start to finish and not giving in, especially when I do get behind. I’m just to trying to execute pitches and not trying to overdo it and force outs. I was able to make good pitches and get good results.”

The Phillies offense for the seven innings couldn’t get anything going off San Diego starter Tyson Ross, who allowed zero runs on four Phillies hits.

Phillies Are Not Even Close to Being Contenders

3 Jun

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Roberto Hernandez had a rough night in an 11-2 loss to the Mets.

Roberto Hernandez had a rough night in an 11-2 loss to the Mets.

PHILADELPHIA—You would like to think that because it’s only June that there is plenty of time for the last-place Phillies, who are now six and one-half games behind the first-place Atlanta Braves, to right their ship and back into contention.

Considering that the Phillies (24-31) lost four out of five games to a New York Mets squad that is quite frankly just as bad as they are, you gotta have a lot of faith to think the Phils can turn it around. I mean a whole lot of faith to believe this team can get it together.

“We have to get better at everything. That’s the whole goal,” said Phillies second baseman Chase Utley in a rare post-game interview with reporters. “I don’t think there’s any one thing missing. We have to hit better and we have to play better defense.”

Looking at the way they are playing at this point in the season, it might be an accomplishment if they can just get to .500. The playoffs, even in the era of two wildcard teams, are way out of the question. The July 31st trade deadline is looking more and more like a fire sale.

Monday’s 11-2 loss to the Mets was a combination of bad pitching, a lack of offense, poor defense and a horrific night by the bullpen. It was a microcosm of a bad season by a lackluster team.

“I would say that we’ve showed signs of fundamental baseball,” said manager Ryne Sandberg. “We’ve played better defense than we did in this series. It’s just putting together the pitching, the defense, executing throughout the game and having some timely hits and getting some better run support. Putting it all together or more parts of the game together.”

The starting pitching, which has had some good moments this season, fell completely apart in the series finale against the Mets. Starter pitcher Roberto Hernandez, who has pitched well in his starts throughout the season, had a bad night or more accurately one bad inning.

For the game, Hernandez (2-2) gave up five runs, four came in the sixth inning when the Mets sent 10 men to the plate a pair of RBI doubles by David Wright and Willmer Flores put the Phillies in a 5-0 hole from which they never recovered.

The Phillies had a chance to minimize the damage in that inning when Mets first baseman Lucas Duda hit a routine ground ball to Utley who mishandled a ball that should have led to an inning-ending double-play. Instead, it loaded the bases and Flores got the double to break the game open.

On offense, the Phillies scored their runs on an RBI groundout by Ryan Howard that scored Cesar Hernandez in the sixth and a wild pitch by Mets pitcher Jeurys Familia that scored centerfielder Ben Revere from third in the eighth.

In both of those innings, the Phillies had the first two men reach with nobody out and got just two runs out of it. They were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position. If there is anything that’s been consistent about this team is its futility with runners in scoring position.

The bullpen, which came into the game with a 1.60 earned run average since May 22, gave up six runs in the ninth inning, including a grand-slam home run to Flores, who had not hit a home run all year for the Mets. That sent the fans, some of whom were doing Eagles and Flyers chants, rushing to the exits.

The Phllies finished the homestand with just four wins in 11 games. They are 12-19 at home for the season. Teams that contend don’t struggle at home. The 2014 Phillies should never be confused with a team that is contending for anything.

When you look at their starting lineup, you have guys who are capable of hitting and yet they don’t do it on a consistent basis. Ryan Howard is either feast or famine. He was 8-for-45 during the homestand, but also had four home runs and 15 runs batted in.

You also have guys like Marlon Byrd, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins, who are not having bad years individually. But they haven’t come through in clutch situations with any kind of consistency. Domonic Brown, who was an All-Star last season, is only hitting .206 with just four home runs and 27 runs batted in.

Yet, Sandberg believes his squad is still capable of being a good team that can put together some wins to get back in the pennant race.

“We showed better baseball than what we’ve played overall and I believe the core group is there,” Sandberg said.

 

Wheeler and the Mets Stifle Frustrating Phillies

30 May

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

 

Marlon Byrd's solo home run was the Phillies source of offense in the loss to the Mets. Webster Riddick.

Marlon Byrd’s solo home run was the Phillies source of offense in the loss to the Mets. Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—If there’s anything you can almost count on this season when you’re watching the Phillies, you never know which team is going to show up on a nightly basis.

After getting a walk-off home run by Ryan Howard to win on Wednesday, that other Phillies team showed up. You know the one that can’t seem to hit or score with runners in scoring position or commit a costly error. The team that stays near .500, but can’t seem quite get beyond it.

That above-mentioned Phillies team was on the short end of a 4-1 loss to the New York Mets Thursday night at Citizen’s Bank Park in front of 26, 688 fans, most of whom probably went home shaking their heads in utter bewilderment.

With the exception of Marlon Byrd’s solo home run in the seventh, the Phillies offense was basically nonexistent and they made Mets starting pitcher Zach Wheeler (2-5, 4.31 ERA) look like the second-coming of Roger Clemens or Tom Seaver.

Wheeler had nine strikeouts and zero walks while allowing the one run on four hits. The Phillies as a team struck out 15 times against Mets pitching.

“Tonight it looked like (Wheeler) had pretty good stuff. I would say that his record doesn’t indicate the kind of stuff that he had tonight,” said Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg. “We were just behind in the count the whole game. We couldn’t pull the trigger on his fast ball. He got better as the game wento on with his breaking stuff. Even the relievers had some pretty stuff.”

Meanwhile, Phillies rookie starting David Buchanan didn’t have a bad outing. It wasn’t all that great and wouldn’t have been that bad if he had some run support. In six and two-thirds innings, he allowed four runs (three earned) on seven hits, two walks and a strikeout.

Buchanan showed some flashes of toughness in this game. In the second inning, he allowed the first three Mets—Lucas Duda, Chris Young, and shortstop Wilmer Flores to reach on singles.

But the sinker ball-throwing Phillies righthander got Mets catcher Travis d’Arnaud to hit into a 6-4-3 double play while Duda crossed the plate to score the game’s first run to give the Mets a 1-0. He got Wheeler to ground out to short to end the inning.

“That’s a situation where you have to bear down and minimize the damage,” said Buchanan, who is now 1-1 with a 3.86 earned run average. “According to the laws of baseball, that guy’s on third is supposed to score anyway. To get out with one run is minimize the damage of what you’re supposed to do. We had a good double play up the middle and that’s all you can ask for.”

In the fourth inning, Young hit a two-run homer to left center give the Mets a 3-0 lead. New York’s final run of the game came in the fourth inning. After a single by Wheeler, Mets centerfielder Juan Lagares reached first when Phillies third baseman Cesar Hernandez short hopped the throw to the baseman.

After Daniel Murphy flied out to center, a slowly hit ground ball by David Wright landed in Hernandez’s at third.

But instead of stepping on the bag at third to get the force or just throwing the ball to first, Hernandez hesitated and threw the ball to second, but second base umpire Marvin Hudson said Lagares was safe and the bases were loaded. Buchanan walked Curtis Granderson, allowing Wheeler to score from third.

It was just another one of those head-scratching nights for a team that can’t seem to get out of the way of themselves.