Unconventional Wisdom: Howard can thank Maddon for his revival

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1. Ryan Howard's nominal slump came to an end right around the time that Joe Maddon stopped going after him aggressively with left-handers. Howard, who had a 250-points-of-OPS platoon split during 2008, was homerless in the postseason until Maddon let Matt Garza face him in the sixth inning on Saturday night. Since then, he has three bombs -- two last night, including a critical three-run job in the fourth -- and no one is asking about his struggles any longer. Howard, though, was only struggling against southpaws. When he came to bat in the sixth on Saturday he was batting .307/.419/.424 against right-handers in the postseason, and .133/.316/.133 against lefties, with many of the latter PAs in high-leverage situations. That, and the small-sample-size lack of home runs, fed the perception that there was a problem with Howard. There wasn't. He simply was seeing too many of the pitchers he doesn't hit well in tough spots. Being allowed to face Garza and Andy Sonnanstine in key ABs was a gift, and now the Rays have wrapping paper and shredded ribbon all over their nice floors.

2. Howard's two homers were part of a four-homer assault by the Phillies, who now have 14 of their 20 runs in this Series off of longballs. That figure for the Rays is three out of 12, so 17 of 32 World Series runs, more than half, have come on home runs. That fits expectations; when you face better pitching it's not smallball that wins games, because it's too hard to string together multiple events for runs. You beat good pitchers with short-sequence offense, scoring multiple runs quickly with the longball. Throughout this postseason, power, rather than manufacturing runs, has been ascendant. Game 3 was the exception, not the rule.

3. The Rays have gotten away from what worked for them in the regular season, going from a patient team that works counts, gets into good situations, draws walks and hits for power to a group of anxious hackers. They've struck out in a quarter of their ABs in the World Series, and have a miserable 3.4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio with just six extra-base hits. Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria, their Nos. 3 and 4 hitters, are 0-for-29 with 15 strikeouts. The easy answer is that they're struggling because of World Series pressure, and that may be so. Another possibility is that they're pressing because they're not hitting well, and spiraling down in a way that could just as easily happen in May or August. One problem with October is that there's not much time to work in the cage, or look at video, or take a day or two off, so you just have to work through it. Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton took advantage of this, which is perhaps the biggest reason the Phillies are one win from a championship.

4. Aramis Ramirez and Kevin Youkilis were named the winners of the 2008 Hank Aaron Awards, which appear to be given out by randomly picking a name from a list of the better hitters in the league. The press release says that the award recognizes "the most outstanding offensive performer in each league," and that fans, through online voting, have some say in the process. Well, that process is broken, as it picked the 19th-best hitter in the NL and the fifth-best hitter in the AL. Ramirez wasn't the best offensive third baseman in the league. He wasn't the best hitter in his division. He wasn't the best Ramirez, for crying out loud. It's not his fault -- if you give me an award, I'll show up to collect -- but if an award for the best offensive performer in the league lands on the 19th-best guy, you can't take it seriously, like a Video Music Award.

5. Cole Hamels goes to the mound tonight with a chance to end the World Series in five games. That would make this the fifth straight season in which the Series ended in five or fewer games, and the sixth straight without a Game 7. Both those marks would be records. If baseball is going to emphasize the postseason in a way that dramatically increases its importance to the industry relative to the regular season and the pennant races, the risk is that the postseason doesn't deliver. Despite some interesting moments along the way, this World Series, like the previous four, is beginning to feel anticlimactic.