Ryan Howard was hardly the Phillies’ biggest problem

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Ryan Howard struck out a ton in the playoffs, including watching a called third strike to end Philadelphia’s season in a spot where just about everyone can agree that he should have swung, but the increasingly repeated notion that he’s primarily to blame for the NLCS loss to the Giants seems to be ignoring one very crucial point:

Ryan Howard had the Phillies’ highest OPS in the playoffs and hit .318 with a .400 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage in the NLCS.

If his hitting .303/.395/.424 in the playoffs supposedly sunk the Phillies, then what about Chase Utley hitting .212/.325/.333 with some ugly defense at second base? Or how about “table-setters” Shane Victorino and Placido Polanco combining to go 14-for-66 (.212) with a .570 OPS so that Howard rarely had anyone on base to actually drive in? Or what about Jimmy Rollins and Raul Ibanez going 14-for-65 (.215) with a .550 OPS behind him?

Howard had a .303 batting average in the playoffs and no one else on the entire team had a batting average above .230. Howard had an .819 OPS in the playoffs and no one else on the entire team had an OPS above .760. Or, put another way: Howard hit .303 overall in the playoffs, including .318 in the NLCS, while the rest of the Phillies’ lineup combined to hit .203 in the playoffs overall and .202 in the NLCS.

Should he have swung at that 3-2 slider from Brian Wilson? Absolutely. Is he primarily responsible for the Phillies missing out on their third straight World Series? Not even close, unless you don’t mind ignoring facts to support your Howard-bashing argument. Sadly, it seems like an awful lot of Phillies fans and media members are all too happy to do just that.

World Series Game 1 will feature Dallas Keuchel vs. Clayton Kershaw

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The Dodgers and Astros have selected their starters for Game 1 of the World Series. Left-hander Dallas Keuchel will open the series for the Astros, while fellow lefty Clayton Kershaw will take the mound for the first of two home games at Dodger Stadium.

Keuchel, 29, has been a steady presence for the Astros this postseason. He clinched Game 2 of the ALDS with 5 2/3 innings of one-run, seven-strikeout ball against the Red Sox and returned for his second postseason win with seven scoreless innings against the Yankees in Game 1 of the ALCS. He was outmatched in Game 5 of the Championship Series, however, scattering four runs and eight strikeouts across 4 2/3 innings while the Yankees worked their way up to a 5-0 shutout. Nevertheless, he’s perhaps the Astros’ strongest arm behind ALCS MVP Justin Verlander and has not surrendered a single home run in 17 1/3 consecutive innings this postseason.

Kershaw, on the other hand, has had a less consistent track record in the playoffs. While his postseason yips have been well-documented thus far, his struggles on the mound haven’t always led to disaster — at least not this time around. The Dodgers are 3-0 in all three of Kershaw’s starts this month and enjoyed a quality start from their ace during Game 5 of the NLCS last Thursday. The 29-year-old southpaw recorded his second win of the playoffs with a run, three hits, a walk and five strikeouts over six innings. Unlike Keuchel, he’s given up a home run in each of his outings to date (and four homers in Game 1 of the NLDS).

Game 1 is set for Tuesday evening at 8:00 PM ET. The Dodgers have home field advantage through Games 1 and 2 before the series moves to Houston, and will try to capitalize on that advantage in order to extend their postseason winning streak at Dodger Stadium. They’re 4-0 at home and 3-1 on the road this October, while the Astros boast a 6-0 advantage in Houston and a significantly less impressive 1-4 record away from home.