In Thursday evening's defeat against Jorge De La Rosa and the Colorado Rockies, Philadelphia Phillies' first baseman Ryan Howard hit his ninth home run of the season and the 343rd of his career, which places him in sole possession of 93rd all-time on Major League Baseball's home run list.
During the Phillies' past nine games, in which they have won seven, Howard has been a large contributor to their success, batting .382/.400/.735 with three doubles, three home runs and six runs-batted-in. His previous 30 games, however, were an entirely different picture. The 2006 National League Most Valuable Player batted just .217/.278/.453 with six home runs and 15 runs-batted-in.
Howard's early struggles this season caused him to drop as low as seventh in the batting order for the first time since 2006. The three-time All-Star struggled so much that some fans began to believe his career was 'all but over'.
As it turns out, when comparing the Big Piece's numbers so far this season through 39 games to those of season's past, he's really not struggling after-all.
Howard's recent turn-around, belting five home runs over his previous 15 games, has helped raise his average from .195 on May 5 to .257 today.
The last time Howard started with nine or more home runs with a slugging percentage .500 or better, as he has done in 2015, was four seasons ago in 2011. Howard has just three fewer hits so far this season than in his start to 2011, over 19 fewer plate appearances.
The St. Louis, Missouri-native is projected to have 30 doubles, 34 home runs and 79 runs-batted-in after his first 39 games played. In 2014 over the same stretch, he was projected to have more runs-batted-in (89), but fewer doubles (20) and home runs (28).
If Howard hits 25 more home runs this season, which would match his projection, he would have 368 career home runs. That would rank him an even 80th all-time, in-between Todd Helton/Ralph Kiner (369), and Lance Berkman (366).
The 2009 National League Championship Series MVP is currently 205 home runs behind Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt on the Phillies' home run list. With at most two more seasons remaining on his multi-year deal signed back in April of 2010, he would need to average nearly 70 home runs per season to even come close to matching Schmidt's record.
A much more attainable milestone for Howard, this season, is climbing the franchise's leaderboard for runs-batted-in. He currently trails left fielder Del Ennis by 45 for third place in franchise history. Howard is currently projected to have 58 more runs-batted-in this season, which would be 12 more than needed to pass Ennis.