I've debated this in my mind all week, but I've come to the conclusion that Ryan Howard should not be released. That doesn't mean I want him to start. I'd rather see The Big Piece on the bench, but I still want him on the roster. It's not for sentimental reasons, either.
I've got three reasons.
1. He's not the least valuable player on the roster. That's Emannuel Burris. Howard's potential for a long-ball is more valuable than Burris ability to play five positions poorly and hit .200.
2. There's no other back-up for Joseph. Look. If you're going to release him, you're eating the contract anyway. So keep him on the bench, where he probably provides more value than Darin Ruf does at this point. Let's not forget Ruf had worse numbers than Howard. Who else are you going to bring up? Brock Stassi? Kid was impressive in spring training, but he's hitting .218/.344/.327 at Lehigh Valley. You need a back-up first baseman. Keep Howard in that role so you have more freedom with Andres Blanco.
3. Did you notice Howard pulling Herrera aside the other day? That's no small thing. He's the elder statesman on this team. He's the only guy with an NLCS MVP on his mantel, let alone a regular season MVP. Of the core players on the roster Ruiz was undoubtedly a leader on the pitching staff and Rollins was the public persona of the team. Chase Utley was a dynamic player who showed a ton of fire. Everyone says that he is the guy you want your kid to live up to and they're right about that. But, for whatever reason, Howard was never treated by the fans and the media like he was a leader of this team. But you'd hear comments from teammates and Charlie Manuel. And you'd notice little things, if you played close enough attention. You'd see him chatting with younger players. I think he's got some value on a young team being the guy who talks to the media and who can help Pete Mackanin as a voice in the clubhouse. Who else can take that role? Peter Bourjos. Freddy Galvis. Maybe Chooch, but he and Rupp spend most of their time on the bench chatting with the coaches or the pitchers, not policing everyone else.
I have no delusions that Howard will have any trade value. You're not going to get a prospect for him. Not a Nick Pivetta level prospect. Not a Kyle Martin level prospect. But you don't even have that level of prospect ready to take over for him as a back up. I was a big Darin Ruf fan, but he's barely cutting it at Triple-A.
Friday May 27: 2:20
Saturday May 28: 2:20
Sunday May 29: 2:20
The match ups
Adam Morgan (1-2, 5.61) vs John Lester (4-3, 2.60)
Jerad Eickhoff (2-6, 3.86) vs Kyle Hendricks (2-4, 3.30)
Vincent Velazquez (5-1, 2.75) vs John Lackey (4-2, 3.38)
What we know about the Cubs
They're really good. Chicago is a damn near perfect team, having burst out of the gate to a 31-14 record. The offense is second in runs scored, second in on-base percentage, sixth in homers and eighth in stolen bases. The pitching is even deeper. It leads the league with a 2.74 ERA, has allowed just 35 homers and is fourth in strikeouts. The Phillies can be thankful they're gonna miss 9-0 Jake Arrieta or Jason Hammel's 2.17 ERA. But they still have to face three good starters.
Key match up
Eickhoff vs Hendricks is going to be an interesting game. Both pitchers have pitched well this season, but don't have good records to show for it. Chances are, someone is going to take another tough luck loss. The Phillies and Cubs have had some memorable games over the years, so I wouldn't be shocked if this gives us another one.
What we can't wait to see
Tommy Joseph has a chance to really prove himself against a tough lefty today.
Any offensive production he provides, particularly if he has to face a righty later in the game, could have an impact later this season.
It's hard to imagine the 48th game of the season being crucial, especially for a team that was expected to finish with fewer than 70 wins, but this could be it.