As Atlanta prepared to play its first game of this season against Philadelphia on Tuesday night at Turner Field, manager Bobby Cox acknowledged the danger that Howard presents. But at the same time, he said there is no reason to provide him the same kind of treatment that Barry Bonds received from many clubs during the early years of this century.
"Nothing is like Bonds, nothing in the history of baseball," Cox said. "[Howard] is one of the class RBI guys in the league. He's great. He's a better player now than he was. But there will never be another Bonds situation like that."
While winning seven of their first nine against the Phils last year, the Braves limited Howard to a .250 (9-for-36) batting average with seven strikeouts, zero walks and zero homers. While losing six of their past nine games against the NL East champs, they saw the Phillies' first baseman hit .438 (14-for-32) with eight homers, 14 RBIs, eight strikeouts and two walks (one intentional).
"The bottom line is when you're talking about guys like Howard, [Phillies second baseman Chase] Utley, the [Alex Rodriguez's] and [Albert] Pujols' of the world, when they're locked in, you're going to have a hard time getting them out," Atlanta righty Tim Hudson said. "I'm not quite sure how they've been swinging as a whole right now. Sometimes, they're easier to get out than others. Sometimes, you're better off pitching around them until you have to get them out."
Having struck out at least 186 times each of the past three seasons, Howard is obviously much different than Bonds, whose only 100-strikeout season occurred during his 1986 rookie season.
Still even though Bonds could provide damage in a number of ways, Cox's pitchers were always rather aggressive against him. When the Giants outfielder was producing ridiculous statistics from 2001-04, he homered once every 7.86 at-bats and walked once every 1.91 plate appearances.
Against the Braves during this span, Bonds homered once every 5.54 at-bats and walked once every 3.28 plate appearances.
Howard, who has homered once every 9.44 at-bats in his career against Atlanta, has drawn a total of 44 walks (14 intentional) in the 84 games that he had played against the Braves entering Tuesday night's series opener.