For the Philadelphia Phillies, Thursday night was the biggest game of the season — every game is now the biggest game of the season, as they strive to catch up to the Braves in the NL East, or the Cardinals, Reds, and Padres for the second wild card. The drama and intensity of a late-season playoff push are as follows: Every game feels like a must-win situation, and every at-bat is tense.
Bryce Harper of the Philadelphia Phillies for MVP?
With a runner on first and one out in the bottom of the first, Harper faced Cubs veteran right-hander Kyle Hendricks with the game still scoreless. Hendricks pitched six straight changeups after Harper swung at a first-pitch sinker, and Harper eventually walked. Only one of the seven pitches was within striking distance of the batter. After exploding for seven runs in the third inning, the Cubs suddenly lead 7-0 in the bottom of the fourth. Hendricks didn’t want to walk Harper with a big lead, so he delivered a changeup at the top of the zone, which Harper smashed to left field at 100.7 mph, off the top of the wall for a double. With runners on first and third and two outs, the Phillies launched a strong rally, and Harper came up again later in the inning, bringing the score to 7-5. The Phillies wore throwback blue uniforms with a maroon racing stripe down the side from the 1970s and 1980s. Harper locked his gaze on Hendricks, his eyes black, his beard a few days old and flawlessly colour coordinated with the maroon sleeves and even a maroon shin guard.
He had the same radiance as Mike Schmidt in his heydey. J.T. Realmuto greeted a reliever with a game-tying single after Hendricks walked him on four pitches. Harper’s fourth plate appearance came in the sixth inning, with the game still tied at seven runs apiece and one out. Unless you want to load the bases, there was nowhere to put him this time. Manuel Rodriguez, a hard-throwing Cubs rookie, was pitching. Harper swung through a 98 mph fastball after throwing a slider a foot outside for a strike. The next pitch was a nice slider that was barely off the outer corner of the plate. Harper took the pitch brilliantly and hit an RBI double down the left-field line to give the Phillies an 8-7 edge. He clapped twice while standing at second base. With two runners on base in the seventh inning and the Phillies leading 12-8, lefty Rex Brothers took the mound. A first-pitch slider was thrown by Brothers. With an exit velocity of 112.2 mph and a distance of 432 feet from home plate, Harper uncoiled and smashed the baseball deep into the first row of the second tier in right field. Ben Davis, the Phillies’ announcer, said, “Just remarkable what this man has done in the second half.” “‘Climb on, boys, I’ve got some broad shoulders,'” says the narrator. Davis is absolutely correct. Harper is hitting.355/.486/.761 in the second half, with 18 home runs and 45 RBIs in 59 games as the Phillies seek to complete the series sweep against the Mets on Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN. Phillies fans chanted “M-V-P! M-V-P!” after Harper’s home run off Brothers, as he has blasted his way into co-favorite status with Fernando Tatis Jr. Harper stated on a videoconference call with reporters after the game that it was wonderful to hear from the fans, but that the MVP competition is the last thing on his mind. Harper is a rare star in this stat-obsessed sport who prefers to ignore the numbers. He only wants to assist his teammates. “I don’t enjoy looking at my figures,” he explained. “I haven’t looked at my numbers in a long time. I don’t like [manager] Joe [Girardi] showing me my figures, and I don’t let my friends, Kayla [his wife], or anyone else show me my numbers. I don’t pay attention to them on Instagram. It’s just get out of it as soon as possible whenever my eyes get near to staring at something. I’m very concerned about the upcoming season.
I’m concerned about how we do as individuals and as a team at the conclusion of the year. At the end, I’ll look at my numbers to see where I can improve and grow better. I admit it’s a little wacky and makes no sense. MVP talk irritates me.” So don’t text Harper about the MVP race if you happen to have his phone number. “My friends are aware of this. All of my acquaintances. They don’t send me texts about it. My grandfather is the same way “he stated Harper has a season batting average of. With 33 home runs, 38 doubles, 92 runs, and 79 RBIs, he hit 315/.429/.627. Harper leads the majors in OPS and park-adjusted weighted runs generated, despite the well-deserved attention given to Tatis, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Shohei Ohtani. Harper hasn’t had a season like this since his MVP season in 2015. Since then, he’s alternated between decent and great at the plate. He hit.243 in 2016, and his home runs fell from 42 to 24, owing to a shoulder injury he sustained on a slide approximately a third of the way through the season. He hit.319/.413/.595 in 2017, and was in contention for the MVP until he hurt his knee slipping on first base on a damp night in mid-August.
He hit for power and got on base in both his final season with the Nationals and his first season with the Phillies, but he only hit.255 in both, as his strikeout rate jumped from 20% in 2015 to over 25% in 2018. When looking at Harper’s advanced metrics, nothing pops out as indicating that he is changing his strategy. It’s essentially a collection of minor details mixed together. He’s going to the opposite field a little more, as evidenced by his two doubles to left field on Thursday — 29 percent of his balls in play compared to approximately 26 percent the previous three seasons. With a career high swing percentage of 46.1 percent compared to a career average of 42.7 percent, he’s been a tad more aggressive on pitches in the strike zone. He’s not striking out as much. He’s actually hitting more ground balls, where he’s batting.250, which is just on par with his career average of.261. He’s hit.400 with a 1.388 slugging percentage on fly balls, which is greater than his MVP season when he hit.354 with a 1.203 slugging percentage.
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