Recapping the Season and What’s to Come

Bryce Harper Very Well May Win NL MVP — But The Phillies May Still Miss The Playoffs

Source: NBC Sports Philadelphia

Source: NBC Sports Philadelphia

Alex McCrystal

There are two historic things happening with the Phillies this year — one of them amazing, one of them horrible. The horrific fact is the Phillies bullpen may very well set the record for MLB blown saves. The amazing thing is the MVP season Bryce Harper is having.

Debatably, the Phillies had one of the worst bullpens in MLB history in 2020 and it is back with a vengeance, having blown 32 saves at the time of writing. The record is 34 blown saves by the 2004 Colorado Rockies. If the Phillies had blown half of these saves, or been just barely average, we would certainly be talking about a runaway NL East title. For the second year in a row, the Phillies are being held back by historically bad bullpen pitching.
The bullpen isn’t the only thing holding this team back. Take Aaron Nola, a statistical anomaly of the year, for example. He’s top ten in the league in strikeouts, and has had multiple flashes of dominance, with shutouts and near perfect games. The problem? Two strike counts, two out at-bats, pitching with runners on base, the fifth inning, and the long ball. Aaron Nola has an ERA over ten in the fifth inning, which is the worst in the league. At times, Nola will dominate, but then run into a brick wall, give up back-breaking home runs, hang his pitches, and collapse in the blink of an eye.

Another issue that was supposedly addressed in the offseason was the lack of talent at shortstop. There’s no sugarcoating the disappointing year Didi Gregorious is having. After signing a two-year deal with the Phillies following his amazing 2020 year, Didi has underperformed. His bat has been a liability in the lineup and his defense has been lacking as well.

Alec Bohm followed up a Rookie of the Year runner-up campaign last year with a big sophomore slump. He got hot at times, but it seemed he needed more time to fix his swing. His defensive woes at third base haven’t helped his cause either. Bohm could still be a big part of the Phillies future, but it remains to be seen if his rookie year was a fluke.

However, a more glaring issue is rather simple but deflating: injuries. The big deflating injuries are that of Rhys Hoskins, who was having an incredible year and was crucial to the Phillies offense, and Zach Eflin, a crucial part of the Phillies rotation. There are other things that are holding back the Phillies, but arguably fans think these are the most glaring and disappointing aspects of this team.

There are positives for the Phillies. First, there are multiple bright spots on the pitching staff, including a Cy Young caliber season from Zach Wheeler. The Phillies ace most likely won’t win the award, but don’t let that distract you from the dominance of Wheeler throughout the season. He very well may lead the league in strikeouts and innings pitched, providing a much-needed break from the bullpen. He’s consistently getting deep into games with limited damage. Most fans would argue that his most dominant outing came against the Mets in August on Roy Holladay’s special day. Outings like those give major hope for the Phillies future. The addition of Kyle Gibson, who was acquired at the trade deadline, has filled a major hole at the four spot in the rotation, and the former Texas Ranger has done well in his role so far.

The big surprise of the year however has been Ranger Suarez, a 26-year-old southpaw who has never been afraid of the moment. He initially came onto the scene in the bullpen, showing dominance by consistently giving the Phillies shutdown innings with ease. He became the closer and thrived there as well. When Zach Eflin went down, Suarez was thrust into the starter role and he dominated.

Now for the bright spots in the hitting core. Rhys Hoskins was having an incredible year before his season was cut short with an abdomen tear. JT Realmuto is still one of the top statistical catchers in the league. Jean Segura is having an incredible season, constantly hitting around .300 on the year, while also playing amazing defense. Young bench bats like Luke Williams, Travis Jankowski, and Matt Vierling have brought many sparks to this offense. Ronald Torreyes has provided a massive jolt with his impeccable defense and timely hitting. Brad Miller has been one of the most clutch hitters in the league, always producing when the team needs him the most with his power and pop. Andrew McCutchen has been extremely productive getting runs home and has changed his approach for more power. Odubel Herrera has been what the Phillies needed in center field. Freddy Galvis has returned to the Phillies via the trade deadline and some would say he’s been extremely productive.

The most exciting aspect of the hitting core is the historic and downright amazing season Bryce Harper is having. He leads the league in OPS (On-base+Slugging), is second in the league in OBP (On-base percentage) only trailing Juan Soto, is fifth in the league in doubles, leads all NL position players in WAR (wins above replacement), and is second in the league in slugging percentage. The most impressive thing is that most of this is coming in the second half of the season, as Bryce was hit in the face earlier in the season, which threw off his game for a while. Post All-Star break, Bryce Harper has been otherworldly. He is currently batting .354 and has 33 homers on the year. He’s been clutch, electric, and otherworldly. Currently, the NL MVP race is between Harper and Fernando Tatis Jr. Harper would be a lock if the Phillies made the playoffs.

There are some dark spots on this team that bog it down and hold it back from its true potential. But the bright spots can hopefully outshine them and carry the Phillies to the postseason. With only a couple weeks left, there’s no telling what this team, and Bryce Harper, is capable of.