The Phillies have this habit during spring training of rolling out individual stars on given days, effectively giving each player a 24-hour news cycle of mostly positive publicity. But now, with the trade deadline approaching, the same concept inadvertently applies to whomever the media picks as their target for the day. The soup du jour today? Ryan Howard. He’s the soup of the day.
In today’s day game against the San Francisco Giants, Howard will ride the pine for the second straight day. Tim Hudson will take the mound for the Giants, and that is the weird part. He’s right-handed.
Ryan Howard is a career .328 hitter vs. Tim Hudson (.425 OBP), the 7 HR and 17 RBI in 67 AB
— Matt Leon (@MattLeonKYW) July 24, 2014
Darin Ruf gets his second-consecutive start at first base, and that points towards — for better or worse — actually giving Ruf a chance to get comfortable in the majors so we can really see what he’s got. Matt Gelb at the Inquirer thinks this also points towards Howard’s days being numbered:
“This, of course, is just another piece of evidence to support the notion Howard’s time with the Phillies is nearing a conclusion. The Phillies, Sandberg said, plan to audition other players with eyes toward the future. One of them is Darin Ruf. He will start at first base again Thursday and bat sixth.
Howard has not sat for consecutive games this season until now.”
In those spring training days, when even the team with the least potential can inspire excitement and confidence in the unknown, media and fans alike fawn over the stars they’ve come to know and love. But with over half of the season over on the schedule (and all of it over in terms of “hope”), the tide has fully turned. There is no positive outlook, no positive press remaining, because the potential of this team maxed out years ago. So every time Papelbon gives up runs, or Lee doesn’t have control over his pitches, or Jimmy Rollins goes down swinging, or Howard rides the pine, it’s pile on time. All of the eyes on the Phillies are viewing the games through a tarnished lens of “no future.” Even with the rare win, the highs are brought back down to middle-of-the-road level when you look at the team’s performance over time. Whether this is the end of the road for Howard is still yet to be seen, but it is, without a doubt, the end of this iteration of the Philadelphia Phillies. Even if the team stays mostly intact, this is not the team anyone (other than RAJ) wants, and that just breeds disappointment.
So sitting Howard makes sense. He’s not the first baseman of the future. Darin Ruf may not be either, but you have to at least try.