Bryce Harper is having an MVP caliber year and Phillies’ fans could not be more excited. The $330 million contract from 2019 finally appears to be coming to fruition. This season Harper has a slash line of .314/.428/.627 and currently leads the MLB in OPS with 1.055 while also hitting 33 home runs and 77 RBIs. His low RBI total is mostly due to his high solo home run count. This is Harper’s best season since he took home NL MVP in 2015. Harper is slowly catching up to Fernando Tatís Jr. in home runs as well as slugging, as they both occupy the top two spots in the league for slugging. Harper leads Tatís in OBP, average, OPS, and hits while Tatís leads Harper in home runs, slugging, and RBIs. Regardless of the outcome of the MVP race, Harper has proved that he deserves votes and that he is not as overrated as a lot of people think.
People love to hate Harper, and I’ll admit I did not like him when he played for the Nationals. But, his past few seasons in Philly have changed my mind, especially when he chose to respect Roy Halladay (my favorite player) and give up number 34. He embraces the fans of this city and fights 110% every day to bring this team postseason glory. He also puts up monster numbers against his former team, the Nationals, like this season where has a slash line of .391/.500/.783 with an OPS of 1.283 and smashing 7 home runs in 18 games against them. Past seasons have also shown Harper hitting well against the Nationals. They can scream overrated at him as much as they want, but he will most likely hit at least one home run every series they play the Nationals. All in all, Harper has gone off this season and deserves MVP votes. He has been the Phillies’ offense for most of the season but especially since Rhys Hoskins was shut down for the rest of the season. Without Bryce Harper, the Phillies would not be in the NL Wild Card race.
The Phillies currently sit 2.5 back for the second NL Wild Card and three games behind Atlanta for the division lead as they push for their first playoff appearance since 2011. It has been a very long, painful ten-year drought and the fans are hungry for postseason baseball. But, the Phillies are up against some formidable opponents that stand in the way of October baseball: themselves. The Phillies bullpen continues its 2020 trend as being unreliable and downright frustrating. According to Todd Zolecki, the Phillies have blown 31 saves this season, a franchise record, which is 3 away from an MLB record of 34 by the Rockies in 2004.
Ian Kennedy has proven to be another awful bullpen trade acquisition for the Phillies. Alex Carr of The Good Phight had this to say on Twitter about Kennedy:
I wrote an article grading the Phillies’ trade deadline acquisitions, http://diamond-digest.com/2021/08/02/grading-the-phillies-trade-deadline-moves/, and I talked extensively about the Ian Kennedy trade. I had this to say:
Kennedy is definitely having an exceptional 2021 season as he has an ERA of 2.51, 16 saves out of 17 opportunities, an 180 ERA+, and a SO/W ratio of 5. The main issues lie with his age, as he will turn 37 in December, so longevity is definitely a concern. Kennedy also becomes a free agent after the end of the season, as he only signed a 1 year/$2.15 million contract with the Rangers. So if Kennedy pitches well for the rest of the season, then it may be difficult for the Phillies to resign him and if he performs poorly, he can walk away and the Phillies end up losing prospects trading for him. Last year, the Phillies made this same mistake when they traded Nick Pivetta to the Red Sox for Heath Hembree and Brandon Workman. Hembree and Workman were both serving one-year deals with the Red Sox when they were traded to the Phillies. Not only did Hembree and Workman actively make the Phillies bullpen worse, but the Phillies lost the trade because they traded away Pivetta and a prospect for two guys who ended up as free agents when the season ended. Maybe Ian Kennedy will prove to be a valuable asset to the Phillies bullpen, but I am very concerned for now.http://diamond-digest.com/2021/08/02/grading-the-phillies-trade-deadline-moves/
Kennedy is trending towards another good reliever that became abysmal in Philly. He was brought in to be a consistent closer, and he has been anything but that. Jose Alvarado, to borrow a metaphor, continues to be Icarus flying too close to the sun as he throws 100 MPH consistently but cannot throw it consistently in the strike zone. Out of all the Phillies relievers who have at least 20 IPs this season, only one has an ERA below 3.43, Ranger Suarez. Suarez has moved into the starting rotation so now the bullpen is at the mercy of high ERAs like Coonrod, Alvarado, and Kennedy. One silver lining amidst this dumpster fire of a bullpen is Hector Neris, looking comfortable in non-closing relief appearances. In his last 30 games, he has an ERA of 1.95 and WHIP of 0.87 which are stellar numbers for Hector amidst his rocky career. If the Phillies keep putting him in non-save situations, he may turn into a solid reliever for the Phillies.
One pitcher who has had an awful season is Aaron Nola as he currently sports an ERA of 4.58, which is the 6th worst among qualified pitchers, and has served up 24 home runs. This continues his downward slide since his Cy Young nominee 2018 season and his worst season since 2016. Nola was briefly on the IL in July but has since appeared healthy. Maybe he is struggling mentally which would explain his lack of confidence on the mound. If the Phillies have any hope for postseason baseball, Nola needs to pitch like he did at the beginning of the season. This guy has been with the Phillies during their darkest rebuilding years, so watching him pitch without confidence is definitely saddening.
In conclusion, Bryce Harper is having another MVP caliber season but most of that success is at the mercy of the Phillies’ pitching. The bullpen continues its trend of setting the wrong kind of records as the team continues to struggle with a definitive closer. The only chance the Phillies have for postseason baseball is if the pitching tightens up (especially Nola) and the offense can ride on the shoulders of Bryce. It has been 10 painful rebuilding years and the city of Philadelphia deserves to experience postseason baseball again.
To close out this article, here is a quote from Joe Posnanski of the Athletic on Bryce:
Through his age-27 season, Bryce Harper has cracked more home runs than Willie Mays had at the same age. He has more hits than Pete Rose, he’s hit more doubles than Barry Bonds, driven in more RBIs than Babe Ruth, scored more runs than Derek Jeter, and drawn more walks than Rickey Henderson. He has won an MVP award, a Rookie of the Year award, he’s been an All-Star six times, and his 33.7 career WAR is better than more than 100 Hall of Famers at his age, all this even though he essentially lost the 2020 season.Posnanski. https://theathletic.com/2435867/2021/03/09/letters-from-spring-bryce-harper-dave-dombrowski-and-the-art-of-the-uphill-climb/