PHILADELPHIA – Both the Phillies and Ryan Howard are struggling.

One is not exclusive of the other.

Howard is 4-for-27 with no home runs and four RBIs after striking out twice in a 7-2 loss to the New York Mets on Monday night.

Howard has struck out 10 times this season. He has especially had trouble connecting with breaking balls.

The Phillies simply cannot be a playoff contender if Howard does not hit.

Howard’s slow start is surprising because he hit the ball well in spring training. He batted .322 with seven home runs in 82 at-bats.

Howard has grounded a number of balls into the defensive shift teams employ against him. Teams often play their shortstop on the first base side of second base against Howard.

“He’s having a little trouble with lefties but at the same time he’s hit the ball hard right into the shift hard,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.

Manuel said Howard simply needs to hit more balls in the air to beat the shift. Manuel also said Howard might be trying too hard with runners in scoring position.

“He can definitely be a little more patient at the plate,” Manuel said. “The only thing he has to do is be relaxed and get good balls to hit.”

 The Phillies (2-5) host the New York Mets (5-2) at 7:05 p.m. today.