The slugger will try to homer for the fourth consecutive game and draw the Phillies closer to the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL wild-card race as the teams continue their four-game series on Friday night at Citizens Bank Park.
Howard did not clear .200 until May 22, and still was hitting as low as .204 as late as June 12. But the 2006 NL Most Valuable Player has proven his worth of late, helping the Phillies (80-67) draw within three games of the Brewers (83-64) for the wild card and the New York Mets for the NL East lead.
He opened the scoring in Thursday’s 6-3 victory with a two-run homer—his major-league leading 43rd—in the first inning, and added an RBI double that missed being a two-run homer by inches in the fourth as Philadelphia avoided its third straight loss.
“I have to produce runs,” said Howard, who also has a major league-best 129 RBIs and is hitting .368 (14-for-38) with six homers, six doubles and 15 RBIs in September. “Whatever I can do to get the team going and provide a spark, I try to do.”
While Howard will try to lead the offense again, Cole Hamels (12-9, 3.12 ERA) will try to follow Jamie Moyer’s effective outing. But Hamels is coming off a shaky start, giving up five runs and nine hits - including two home runs - in five innings of a 6-3 loss to the Mets on Sunday.
Despite striking out 11 in his only start against the Brewers this season, Hamels was reached for five runs and eight hits while giving up two home runs in a 5-4 loss on April 23 at Milwaukee. The left-hander is 1-1 with a 4.76 ERA in four lifetime starts against the Brewers, striking out 32 in 28 1-3 innings, but also giving up five home runs.
The Brewers are 3-8 in September, and each loss is leaving them with less of a chance to catch the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central. Milwaukee is 5 1/2 games out of first, and surging Houston is tied with the Phillies in the wild-card race.
“This series has no more importance or value than the last series, but every day is important, every game is important,” said Brewers manager Ned Yost, who is looking for ways to avoid a second straight late-season collapse. “It’s must-win, that must be your mind-set in September.”
Prince Fielder provided a bright spot for the Brewers by ending a homerless drought that dated to Aug. 13. He is 3-for-13 with two homers and five RBIs lifetime versus Hamels.
Brewers shortstop J.J. Hardy, who has four homers in his last nine games, is 3-for-8 with a homer and four RBIs against Hamels.
Manny Parra (10-7, 4.03) was plagued by poor defense Sunday against San Diego as two errors contributed to five unearned runs in the third inning of a 10-1 defeat. The left-hander took a loss in a relief appearance - his only outing - against the Phillies on Aug. 5, 2007, giving up two runs, two hits and two walks in one inning.
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