02/09/07 10:00 AM ET
Will anyone hit 60 home runs?
After narrowly missing the mark, Howard is the best bet
By Ken Mandel / MLB.com
• Mon. Jan. 22: Who are the top remaining Free Agents?
• Tue. Jan. 23: Who are the top players switching leagues?
• Wed. Jan. 24: Whose farm system will be the talk?
• Thu. Jan. 25: Who will be this year's Frank Thomas?
• Fri. Jan. 26: Is the NL turning the tide?
• Mon. Jan. 29: Can the Cardinals repeat as champs?
• Tue. Jan. 30: Why no repeat winners since 2000?
• Wed. Jan. 31: Can Cubs break the curse?
• Thu. Feb. 1: Will Central dominance continue?
• Fri. Feb. 2: Which teams could surprise?
• Mon. Feb. 5: Which new managers will have an impact?
• Tue. Feb. 6: Which young pitchers will make The Leap?
• Wed. Feb. 7: Which young hitters will make The Leap?
• Thu. Feb. 8: How good will Matsuzaka be?
• Fri. Feb. 9: Will anyone hit 60 home runs?
• Mon. Feb. 12: Will anyone win 20 games?
• Tue. Feb. 13: Who will be this year's surprise closer?
• Wed. Feb. 14: Where will Clemens pitch?
• Thu. Feb. 15: If pitching wins, who tops the Marlins?
• Fri. Feb. 16: Who will win the World Series?
Hitting 60 home runs is arguably the most difficult of the individual accomplishments, considering only five players have done it, and those five combined to do it eight times.In addition to opponents' lack reluctance to face Howard, Pujols and Ortiz, another factor will be their home addresses, and hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park certainly won't hurt Howard's chances, nor will Boston's right-field area for lefty Ortiz. Manuel predicts a solid performance from Burrell and others around Howard, giving opponents less reason to take the bat out of Howard's hands. The Phillies scored the fourth-most runs in the Major Leagues in 2006 and added Wes Helms. The Red Sox were ninth and St. Louis was 14th. While Pujols and Ortiz have had more consistent success simply because they've been around longer, Pujols has never reached 50, and Ortiz's 54 in 2006 were a career high. Howard knows he has a long way to go just to duplicate his 2006 record, let alone improve on it. He won't be sneaking up on anybody. Still, Manuel cited adjustments made by Howard as an example of his rapid growth. He eliminated the "middle in" part of the plate in 2006, taking away a location for pitchers to try and find. "That was supposed to be his hole," Manuel said. "They don't bust him now because he can handle that. He wants to master his hitting and he's getting there." But can he or others find their way to 60? "I'm sometimes surprised I got to 58," Howard said. "It was surprising to step back and see what I did. "I'm still awestruck."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.