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.
It’s probably time that Ryan Madson got some attention for being one of the best relievers in baseball.
He’s appeared in four of five NLCS games, tossing 4.2 scoreless innings, and went 6-2 with a 2.55 ERA, .212 opponents’ batting average, and 64/13 K/BB ratio in 55 innings during the regular season.
Since moving to the bullpen full time in 2007 he has a 3.01 ERA and more strikeouts (252) than hits allowed (242) in 269 innings.
Wednesday night in Game 4 he induced what should have been an inning-ending double play in the seventh, only to have Jimmy Rollins boot the Cody Ross ground ball and load the bases with one out and Pablo Sandoval at the plate. Things could have unraveled in a hurry, but instead Madson turned to Rollins and said, “I got you.” True to his word, he induced an actual inning-ending double play, wriggling out of trouble, and went on to toss a scoreless eighth inning too.
Madson came up big again last night in Game 5, protecting a 3-2 lead with a flawless eighth inning that saw him strike out Buster Posey, Pat Burrell, and Cody Ross. He set them down in order, all swinging, on a total of 13 pitches. Like it was nothin’.
An excellent changeup has always been Madson’s best offering and the pitch has become even tougher to hit thanks to his fastball velocity improving from low-90s early in his career to 94-95 miles per hour over the past two seasons. Toss in a good cut-fastball–which he leaned on heavily in Game 5–and Madson is a rare reliever with three plus pitches in his arsenal.
All of which is why during the past four seasons the only relievers in baseball to throw as many innings as Madson with a lower ERA are Mariano Rivera, Heath Bell, Carlos Marmol, and Darren Oliver.
It’s time to start talking about him as one of the best relievers in the game.
Tim Lincecum threw 104 pitches in last night’s loss to the Phillies, but manager Bruce Bochy said afterward that the reigning back-to-back Cy Young winner could be available out of the bullpen in Game 6 or Game 7 of the NLCS:
I wouldn’t say he’s finished for the series. If needed, it’s one of these series that all hands are on deck and you have them all ready. He’ll have a couple of days off and he’ll be ready to go.
Lincecum said the same about his availability, noting that Saturday will be his normal “bullpen day” and he could skip that with an eye toward throwing an inning or two in Game 6. Roy Halladay presumably wouldn’t be available to do the same because of his groin injury.
In four seasons Lincecum has made just one career appearance as a reliever and that came on April 2, 2008 when the Giants avoided starting him because of a likely rain delay.
Here’s the Giants’ lineup for Game 5 of the NLCS tonight against Roy Halladay:
1. Andres Torres, CF
2. Freddy Sanchez, 2B
3. Aubrey Huff, 1B
4. Buster Posey, C
5. Pat Burrell, LF
6. Cody Ross, RF
7. Pablo Sandoval, 3B
8. Juan Uribe, SS
9. Tim Lincecum, P
Despite facing a right-hander last night and tonight, Bruce Bochy has made several changes to the Giants’ lineup for Game 5. Torres and Uribe are back in after being benched for Aaron Rowand and Edgar Renteria in Game 4, with Torres taking Renteria’s leadoff spot and Uribe replacing Rowand in front of the pitcher.
Bochy started Mike Fontenot at third base against Halladay in Game 1 of the series, but has opted to go with Sandoval at the hot corner this time around after he delivered a key hit last night.
Here’s the Phillies’ lineup for Game 5 of the NLCS tonight against Tim Lincecum:
1. Shane Victorino, CF
2. Placido Polanco, 3B
3. Chase Utley, 2B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Jayson Werth, RF
6. Jimmy Rollins, SS
7. Raul Ibanez, LF
8. Carlos Ruiz, C
9. Roy Halladay, P
Ibanez was benched in favor of Ben Francisco with left-hander Madison Bumgarner on the mound for the Giants last night, but he’s back in the lineup against the right-handed Lincecum.
Charlie Manuel has also ended the brief switch of putting Polanco in between left-handed bats Utley and Howard, perhaps realizing that he’s not a strong enough right-handed hitter to really punish the Giants for bringing in left-handed specialist Javier Lopez anyway.