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Phillies’ Bryce Harper stops at his second MVP

Phillies’ Bryce Harper stops at his second MVP
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Phillies’ Bryce Harper stops at his second MVP

Phillies’ Bryce Harper stops at his second MVP

PHILADELPHIA — With the Philadelphia Phillies in their playoff hopes and a one-run lead in the eighth inning on Wednesday night, the moment certainly fell for the team’s best player who helped take them here .

When Pat Valica of the Baltimore Orioles made a single stroke on the outfield grass and Pedro Severino rumbled home from second base, Phillies right fielder Bryce Harper scooped the ball and caught JT Realmuto to cut a potential game. No-bounce thrown. – The race to tie.

Fans at Citizens Bank Park said something that seemed fitting for a superstar whose second half kept his team afloat and may have propelled him to the top of the race for a certain end-of-the-year prize that he had once previously had won. : “MVP! MVP!”

“He threw a full rocket at home plate,” Phillies first baseman Matt Weirling said after the 4-3 win. “It was a huge play, a clutch play by him. He is a clutch player.”

For so long this season, the National League Most Valuable Player award was earmarked for Fernando Tatis Jr., the superstar shortstop of the once exciting San Diego Padres. Tatis can still claim the award due to his stellar season – a .285 batting average, .988 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 40 home runs, 25 stolen bases and 94 runs at bat. But as the Padres have faded into the post-season run, Tatis’ game has been characterized by injuries, inconsistent play and dugout arguments.

From early August to Thursday, he hit .276, with .912 ops, nine home runs and 24 RBIs in 32 games. He missed 13 games last month due to a partial injury to his left shoulder.

Over the same period, Harper has produced video-game-like numbers: logging a .345 average, 17 home runs, 42 RBIs and an MLB-best 1.245 OPS Thursday. (Only Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Pérez, with 20, has more home runs in the same period.) Including Thursday’s game, Harper has played 63 straight games since July 17, the injury to occur every day on the field. and suffered fatigue as the team for their Phillies (79–74) sat two games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East, with nine games left.

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“I just have to keep going,” he said earlier this month. “That is what this organization expects. These fans expect the same. No matter who is on the mound or how I feel, I have to keep posting every day.”

Harper’s bounce has sent him shooting up the MLB leaderboard for the season: .312 average (sixth), 33 home runs and 1.050 ops (first).

“You know people say they’re on fire and they’re as hot as a week or so ago,” said Phillies first base coach, Paco Figueroa, who oversees the outfield and base running in instruction. . “He’s been hot since the All-Star break. And it’s impressive to watch. Every single pitch, everybody’s staring.”

While the race for the ALMVP appears to be between Los Angeles Angels pitcher and hitter extraordinaire Shohei Ohtani, who has been the favorite this season, and Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who leads the AL in several offensive categories, NL’s race looks far more suspicious.

Some advanced statistics rank Harper as the best hitter in the NL, followed by Washington Nationals right fielder Juan Soto (.325 average and 1.029 OPS) and then Tatis. But if his full body of work is taken into account, Tatis plays a more demanding position in the field and is a better base runner.

“There are really great players in the National League, and I’m not saying anything against him, but I get to see what he does every day, and that’s an advantage for me,” said Phillies manager Joe Girardi. said Harper. “Moves, base running, defense, what he’s capable of doing on a daily basis – so I’m a little partial.”

Labeled a prodigy since being on the cover of Sports Illustrated at age 16, Harper was NL Rookie of the Year with the Washington Nationals in 2012 and was named MVP in 2015, when he scored the most impressive offensive in MLB history. Had produced one of the seasons: .330 average with 42 home runs and 1.109 ops with 9.7 wars. At 22, he was the youngest unanimous MVP in baseball history.

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Since then, Harper has flirted with similar talent but has been slowed down by injuries or inconsistencies. In 2019, the first year of his 13-year, $330 million deal with the Phillies, Harper hit .260 with .882 OPS and 35 home runs—strong production for most, but in light of the high bar set by his talent. disappointing. This season, however, 28-year-old Harper has reminded those who forgot that he is one of the best hitters in baseball.

“Expectations are high for him, so when he doesn’t have a super elite season like this year, you ignore it a little bit,” said Phillies hitting coach Joe Dillon, who was Nationals’ hitting assistant. Coach during Harper’s final season in Washington in 2018.

Dillon later added: “He’s been into the race for a few months where he’s been as good as anybody, but you’re still not intimidated by it for any reason that doesn’t seem fair to him. But it’s just the expectations that matter.” Has been around him. What he’s doing, it takes a second to see how special it is.”

His coaches said that better health has helped Harper’s defense and hitting. According to Dillon, Harper has used his lower half better this season versus last season, when he battled a back injury for most of the season cut short by the pandemic in a 60-game season. Still, Harper hit .268 with 13 home runs, led the baseball with a .962 ops and 49 walks—a credible skill empowered by his sharp eye at the plate.

This season, Harper has managed to play 132 of the Phillies’ 153 games, overcoming a back problem, a sore left wrist, a face injury from the pitch, and an injured left arm. (Tatis has played 120 of the Padres’ 152.)

One of Harper’s biggest areas of improvement from last season: his production against off-speed pitches, which, according to Dillon, was proof that Harper was consistent with his violent left-arm swing rather than trying too hard. has been in control. Against those pitches that entered Thursday, Harper was hitting .329 this season—his highest mark since his MVP season.

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Against the Orioles on Tuesday, Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde showed Harper the last sign of respect during a game, a move regularly used in his prime against slugger Barry Bonds: He deliberately raced Harper, forward. , went into extra innings. Realmuto tripled to drive in the tying run and Harper, who scored from first to win the game, 3–2.

Harper has spoken little about her success this season. He has said that he will answer any questions about his season at the end, when he can sit down to watch his numbers and find out how and where he can improve. Recently, he was unavailable for comment as he stuck to a plan that has worked well for him: preparing for games in indoor batting cages instead of traditional on-field batting practice.

“MVP!” Asked about Harper’s four runs after the September 16 win, Harper said it was nice to receive such a welcome from fans, but that he was more focused on the remaining weeks in the regular season.

Throughout the season, he said he didn’t let anyone in his life show his figures — not his wife, Kayla, or his father — his unofficial coach — or Girardi. He said his friends didn’t know to text him about it. He said that if he could see his numbers somewhere, such as on Instagram, he would quickly get them out of his mind.

“I know it’s crazy and it doesn’t make sense,” Harper said recently. “But I don’t like the MVP thing. I don’t like seeing you look at my numbers. I don’t like seeing where I am or where I am in the second half or anything like that. I just want to play my game. I just want to show up every night, make sure I’m playing in the right field, batting third and helping this team win.”

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