Ryan Howard will begin a rehab assignment with Low-A Lakewood Thursday.

Howard will serve as the designated hitter before eventually working his way into games at first base. Barring a setback, the Phillies expect him back in the lineup shortly after the All-Star break.  Howard has been playing the field in simulated games down in Clearwater, Florida since mid-June. He's likely to spend close to three weeks appearing in minor league rehab games before returning to the Phillies' starting lineup shortly after the All-Star break.

Getting Howard back would be a huge lift to the Phillies offense coupled with the return of Chase Utley, it could be just what the doctor ordered to get back into at the very least the NL Wild Card race.  A line-up with Rollins, Pierre, Utley and Howard at the top, along with Pence, Ruiz and Victorino could end up being one of the most formidable units in the National League.

The main issue though hasn't been this patch-work offense, but the teams dreadful bullpen.  While the starting rotation has a respectable 3.85 ERA, the bullpen has a horrendous 4.46 thus far and seems to be getting worse.

Will the return of Howard give the Phillies a lift?

Sure.

However, if they don't fix the bullpen issues they willnot be making their sixth straight playoff appearance.