Ryan Howard suddenly off to one of best starts of his career at the plate

Ryan Howard suddenly off to one of best starts of his career at the plate

Even back when he was bashing upwards of 40 home runs per season, Ryan Howard was a notoriously slow starter. Now all of a sudden, when everybody is least expecting it, the Philadelphia Phillies three-time All-Star first baseman might be in the midst of the best month of April in his 11-year big-league career.

With five homers through the first 19 games in 2014, Howard is one swat away from tying his personal best in the months of March and April, with eight more games to get there. Ironically, his best start from a power standpoint was in 2011, when his status as one of Major League Baseball’s elite deep threats was already dwindling.

Howard admittedly looked a little lost out of the gate this season, but has now gone yard in four of the last eight games, raising his slugging percentage from .400 to .543 in the process.

What does it all mean? Obviously, Howard is completely healthy for the first time since rupturing his Achilles tendon on the final at bat of the 2012 campaign. Even the most pessimistic fan who takes any opportunity to rip his unwieldy $25 million-per-year contract or ludicrous strikeout rate had to anticipate some return to form from Howard.

Yet as of this writing, the Big Piece is on pace to belt 42 this year, which would be more than probably the most optimistic projections. That would be his highest total since ’09, perhaps not coincidentally the last season the Phillies appeared in the World Series.

Could it be after missing more than half of each of the last two seasons, after listening to every critic who said he would never be the same player again, Howard is trying to make up for lost time?

When I say Howard was a historically slow starter, I mean his power was almost non-existent out of the gate some years.

In his MVP season of ’06 during which he slugged 58 bombs, amazingly only five of those were in the first month. The following season, Howard finished with 47 and a .584 slugging percentage after hitting just three with a .390 over the initial 21 games. In ’08, he wound up with 48/.543 after going 5/.343. ’09, only four of his 45 were in April. You get the idea.

In all, Howard easily has fewer home runs per plate appearance in March/April than any other month of the season. This time of year, you can expect him crush one once every 22.9 trips to the dish. From May 1 to the end of the regular season, it becomes every 15.3 appearances.

Enormous difference.

You can always tell when Howard is seeing the ball well, and lately, he’s in the zone. He’s staying back on pitches rather than out in front, which allows him to drive it. He’s hitting the ball the other way for power, like his shot against Colorado on Sunday and ensuing triple that just came up short. Howard’s even smashing lefties, ripping two of his five off the guys who would ordinarily be tossing Kryptonite.

Baseball is cyclical, and Howard is streaky, so setting the bar at the 42 homers he’s currently on pace for might be a bit high.

We’re not accustomed to Howard getting hot before the weather does though. If he’s smacking the ball all over the place now, could he actually set an even more torrid pace as the season marches on?

One thing is for certain, and that is the Phillies’ offense as a whole is benefiting from Howard’s power surge. Philadelphia finished 13th in the National League in ’13 with an average of 3.77 runs per game. At this early stage, the home team is fourth in run production at 4.32 per game.

Howard was always the most important part of the lineup during the Phils’ recent run of success. Now, he’s finally in good health and ready to play a full season for the first time in two years. If this keeps up, who knows where it could lead.

Could Howard swat the Phillies all the way back to the postseason?

NBC Sports Philadelphia Internship - Advertising/Sales

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NBC Sports Philadelphia Internship - Advertising/Sales

Position Title: Intern
Department: Advertising/Sales
Company: NBC Sports Philadelphia
# of hours / week: 10 – 20 hours

Deadline: November 20

Basic Function

This position will work closely with the Vice President of Sales in generating revenue through commercial advertisements and sponsorship sales. The intern will gain first-hand sales experience through working with Sales Assistants and AEs on pitches, sales-calls and recapping material.

Duties and Responsibilities

• Assist Account Executive on preparation of Sales Presentations
• Cultivate new account leads for local sales
• Track sponsorships in specified programs
• Assist as point of contact with sponsors on game night set up and pre-game hospitality elements.
• Assist with collection of all proof of performance materials.
• Perform Competitive Network Analysis
• Update Customer database
• Other various projects as assigned

Requirements

1. Good oral and written communication skills.
2. Knowledge of sports.
3. Ability to work non-traditional hours, weekends & holidays
4. Ability to work in a fast-paced, high-pressure environment
5. Must be 19 years of age or older
6. Must be a student in pursuit of an Associate, Bachelor, Master or Juris Doctor degree
7. Must have unrestricted authorization to work in the US
8. Must have sophomore standing or above
9. Must have a 3.0 GPA

Interested students should apply here and specify they're interested in the ad/sales internship.

About NBC internships

Best of NBA: Pelicans hold off late Lakers rally for 1st win

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Best of NBA: Pelicans hold off late Lakers rally for 1st win

LOS ANGELES -- Anthony Davis scored 27 points, DeMarcus Cousins had 20 and the New Orleans Pelicans withstood a furious rally to beat the Los Angeles Lakers 119-112 on Sunday night for their first victory of the season.

The Pelicans led by 22 points in the second quarter and were still up by double figures heading into the final period, but the Lakers made a charge despite a poor shooting night from rookie Lonzo Ball.

Reserve Jordan Clarkson had 24 points for the Lakers, but Ball shot just 3 for 13 for eight points. He did have 13 assists and eight rebounds.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope started and scored 20 points in his first appearance for the Lakers. Rookie Kyle Kuzma also had 20.

E'Twaun Moore, who went 0 for 5 in his last game, added 19 points for the Pelicans (1-2), while Jrue Holiday and Ian Clark each had 14 (see full recap).

Wiggins' heave banks in, leads Timberwolves past Thunder
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Andrew Wiggins' 3-pointer from a few steps inside halfcourt banked in as time expired to give the Minnesota Timberwolves a 115-113 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday night.

Oklahoma City's Carmelo Anthony had hit a 3-pointer with 5.1 seconds left to give the Thunder the lead before the Timberwolves inbounded to Wiggins, who rushed up the court and got free with help from a crushing pick by Karl-Anthony Towns before pulling up for the winner.

Wiggins scored 27 points and Towns had 27 points and 12 rebounds for Minnesota (2-1).

Russell Westbrook scored 15 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter for the Thunder, who were coming off a loss at Utah on Saturday night. Anthony scored 23 points and Paul George scored 14 points on 6-for-20 shooting. Steven Adams had 17 points and 13 rebounds for the Thunder (see full recap).

Allen Crabbe scored 20 points, Nets beat Hawks
NEW YORK -- Allen Crabbe scored 20 points, DeMarre Carroll had 17 and the Brooklyn Nets beat the Atlanta Hawks 116-104 on Sunday.

Caris LeVert and D'Angelo Russell each had 16 points to help the Nets improve to 2-1 with their second straight victory.

Marco Belinelli had 19 points for Atlanta. The Hawks have lost two in a row to drop to 1-2.

Atlanta point guard Dennis Schroeder went down with an apparent ankle injury with 3:37 left and had to be helped off the court.

Brooklyn found a way to win once again without Jeremy Lin, who was lost for the season on opening night with a knee injury, holding off the Hawks after leading by 16 points late in the third (see full recap).