When Ryan Howard crumpled to the ground in pain for the last out of Friday's final National League Divisional Series, the Philadelphia Phillies may not have only watched 2011 wither away. As one of the most hyped teams going into the season and acquiring one of the biggest names on the market in Hunter Pence at the trade deadline, the Phillies' 2011 could be called an underachievement, but a troublesome 2012 may be on the horizon, and the Atlanta Braves may end up benefiting.
The Phillies built their 2011 squad to win this season around a heavily veteran rotation and an aging – albeit still potent – offense. The training staff is reportedly saying Howard's left leg injury is a torn Achilles' tendon, and, depending on the severity, recovery time can take up to six months.
If Howard's Achilles' tendon is injured badly enough to take that long to come back, he would be able to return at the beginning of April. Thought it is impossible to tell right now if would be able to participate in Spring Training, a late return could prevent Howard from the red hot start he had the first month or so of this season.
Howard did, however, cool off drastically, and did not seem to be the same feared hitter he was in 2009, when he hit .279 with 45 home runs and 141 RBIs. Howard's production was stifled this year to the tune of a .253 average – even dipping below .240 a couple of times – with 33 home runs and 116 RBIs. Though those are still strong power numbers, they are obviously just not as fearsome.
The Braves, on the other hand, have nowhere to go but up with their offensive production and rotation. Their rotation suffered greatly with the loss of Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens over the stretch, and the Braves' offense was almost nonexistent in September, ultimately resulting in the dismissal of Larry Parrish.
So, if the Braves can come back healthy with a good approach to the plate, it could stand that the Phillies could get off to a slow start in 2012, while the Braves come out looking to avenge their September 2011 collapse.
The Braves and Phillies only play each other three times over the first two months, but polar opposite starts may be enough to tip the scales the Braves' way early in the season.
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