To say the Phillies lineup is “in a state of flux” is kind of like saying North Korea is “kind of a loose cannon.”
There are many questions about the makeup of the lineup. “Who’s going to bat leadoff?” “Should Utley still hit third?” “Where will Ben Revere hit?” “How many lefties can the Phillies stack up in a row?” “Michael Young‘s gotta fit in here somewhere, right?”
The Phils simply don’t have a lot of hitters who can be pigeonholed into one specific spot in the lineup.
But they do have one.
His name is Ryan Howard. He used to hit a lot of home runs. He used to drive in a lot of runs. He’s having a really good spring training.
And Charlie Manuel says he’s going to be the clean-up hitter.
Charlie Manuel talked about #Phillies lineup options today, but said no matter what Ryan Howard will hit 4th “”till somebody (else) hits 50″
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) March 19, 2013
The Ryan Howard that has emerged from the catacombs of winter to blast baseballs all over the place down in Florida is a sight for sore eyes. Especially when you consider what he’s doing against left-handed pitching so far this spring.
Ryan Howard has a 1.164 OPS vs. LHP this spring. He’s hitting .400 against them. He homered off one Tuesday. More: ow.ly/je49n
— Ryan Lawrence (@ryanlawrence21) March 19, 2013
Again, these are just spring training stats and left-handed pitchers will be much tougher against Howard once the regular season starts. Still, Ryan has not shown this kind of competence against left-handed pitching since his MVP season of 2006.
For Manuel, penciling Howard into the #4 spot in the lineup is a no-brainer.
“Howard is the only guy in our lineup capable of knocking in 130-150 runs,” Manuel said this week.
As for the rest of the lineup, though, it’s all up in the air. Manuel said he could flip-flop Jimmy Rollins and Ben Revere at the top of the lineup, depending on whether the team is facing a lefty or a righty. And there is the issue of lining up one lefty hitter after another, something that could be a problem when a team brings in a tough left-handed reliever late in games.
“We’re not going to line up all of those left-handed hitters because when the season starts, we’ll see better left-handed pitching,” Manuel said (per AP’s Rob Maadi). “They’re going to save those left-handed pitchers for us. I don’t think we can afford to hang four or five lefties in a row.”
That would mean Revere, Utley, Howard and Brown would probably not bat one right after the other all that often. And that would mean Michael Young could sneak into the #3 spot in the lineup, with Utley moving to #2 and Revere hitting at the bottom of the order.
Against left-handed pitchers, the lineup would likely look something like this… Rollins, Utley, M. Young, Howard, Brown, Ruiz, Mayberry and Revere.
Against right-handed pitchers, you might see a lineup that looks like this… Rollins, Revere, Utley, Howard, Brown, M. Young, Ruiz, and Nix.
And there may be times when Revere is at the top of the order, with Rollins hitting second. That lineup scenario could look like this… Revere, Rollins, Utley, Howard, M. Young, Brown, Ruiz, and Nix/Mayberry.
And there are more possibilities.
At the end of the day, though, there is one spot in the lineup you can count on. Ryan Howard is going to be the cleanup hitter for the Phillies this year.
Let’s hope he cleans up.