BY PAUL MANCANO – In a season of extreme highs and extreme lows, the Phillies are currently riding a rare hot streak, having won four straight and eight of their last ten. Despite dropping a weekend series to the hapless Cubs, they swept the then-first place Braves and took the first game of a four-game series from the perpetually great Cardinals. While this ridiculously confused team will probably drop into another tailspin any day now, for right now, they’re playing really good baseball. And the biggest reason behind their current streak is Ryan Howard, who has three home runs and nine RBIs in the last four games. He’s up to 14 homers on the year, which bumps up to his projected home run number to 32 on the year. That would be his highest total since 2011, when he hit 33.
Howard’s recent surge got me thinking: is it still possible for him to hit 400 home runs in a Phillies uniform? Three years ago, I wouldn’t have hesitated to say yes. Three years ago, he might’ve even had an outside shot at 500. He had 286 homeruns through the 2011 season, when he was 31. He reached the 100 and then 200 home run milestones faster than any other player in baseball history (by number of games).
But then, he tore is ACL on the final pitch of the Phillies’ 2011 season. He only played 71 games the following year and an injury-ridden 2013 season left him with just 25 homers during the two-year span. Now, he’s 34 and has 325 big ones for his career.
So will Howard get to the Big 4-0-0 before his contract runs out?
Given his history with injury and advanced age, my first instinct would be to say no. He would need to remain fairly healthy for the next two and a half years in order to hit 400 under this contract. For all we know, he could start limping while running out a groundball tonight and go down for the year. We’ve come to expect that kind of thing from Howard by now. If he goes down for another long stretch of games, he could not only shorten his amount of time in which to reach 400, but also risk losing strength and power, limiting his abilities to hit the long-ball in the future – like his prior injuries have done.
But say he does hit the projected 32 this year. He’d need 57 more jacks in order to hit 400 by the time his (very expensive) contract runs out following the 2016 season. After it expires, who knows if he’ll be re-signed by whatever GM replaces Ruben Amaro Jr? I could see some American League team picking him up and use him as a DH in his later years.
I’m a big fan of personal accomplishments. I love rooting for players to hit milestones, not just seeing the team win 90 games. Let’s face it, the Phillies are probably gonna suck for the next few years (at least), and watching Howard chase another milestone would give us something to root for during this impending dark age. His current streak gives me hope that he’s still got some left in the tank. His average is horrendous and he looks slower than ever, but so long as he’s still hitting bombs, he’s got a shot at becoming the second Phillie ever to hit 400 in red pinstripes.