(Sports Network) - September is the time of year for temperatures to drop, but for Philadelphia slugger Ryan Howard it's his month to start heating up.
Howard ended a lengthy home run drought in last night's 8-4 win over Los Angeles with a three-run blast in the third inning, his first home run since July 27. Howard had just one RBI and 16 K's since then before crushing an offering from Dodgers reliever Ramon Troncoso.
"I felt like I've had some good at-bats and good swings over the last five, six games," Howard said. "I've just been hitting balls right at people. I was able to just get one, connect and get it over everybody I guess."
He guessed right, and now it's time to see if the All-Star first baseman can keep up his fall numbers. In 162 regular-season games in September and October in his career, Howard has batted .314 with 52 home runs and 141 RBI. The late production has been key to Philadelphia's consecutive trips to the World Series.
Brian Schneider gave the Phillies a 3-1 lead with a three-run homer in the second inning last night and Carlos Ruiz drove in a pair of runs to keep them 1 1/2 games ahead of San Francisco in the wild card standings. Kyle Kendrick got the start and picked up his ninth win (9-7) even though he gave up four runs and seven hits in five innings for the Phils, who entered this series fresh off a three-game sweep at San Diego.
The Phillies, currently three games behind Atlanta for the NL East lead, hope to see a better pitching display from veteran All-Star Roy Oswalt when he takes the LA mound today. Oswalt is 3-1 with a 2.18 ERA in six starts since coming over from Houston and is unbeaten in his last five starts (3-0) -- all Philadelphia wins. He threw eight innings of one-run ball and struck out six in last Friday's 3-2 win at San Diego.
Oswalt beat the Dodgers back on August 11, hurling seven shutout innings and striking out five in a 2-0 triumph. The righty is 7-3 with a 3.11 ERA in 11 career matchups (10 starts) against Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers have dropped three of four games and are 6 1/2 games behind the Phillies for the NL Wild Card lead. Carlos Monasterios tried to replicate what starter Hiroki Kuroda was able to do in a series-opening win, but was yanked after two innings for giving up five runs and five hits.
"Monasterios is still learning," said Dodgers manager Joe Torre. "We crept back into it, but we just couldn't keep the pressure on them when they scored those last two runs."
James Loney hit a two-run homer and finished with three RBI in defeat.
Hoping to get Los Angeles back on track Wednesday afternoon will be Clayton Kershaw, who has lost three of his last four decisions. He did factor in the outcome of last Friday's 6-2 win at Colorado and limited the Rockies to a run on five hits and two walks in six innings.
Kershaw is 11-8 with a 3.01 earned run average in 27 starts this season and squared off with the Phillies on August 12 at Citizens Bank Park. The lefty allowed two runs in 6 2/3 innings for the no-decision and is 0-3 in five career starts in this series.
The Phillies took two of three meetings with Los Angeles in that series last month and, of course, have beaten the Dodgers in each of the past two National League Championship Series.