The Oklahoman

Red-hot Harper has Phillies in contention

- Dan Gelston

PHILADELPH­IA – Bryce Harper waited for the “MVP!” chants to fade as he stepped to the microphone at the Phillies’ home finale to thank fans for sticking by them in the pennant race.

The National League MVP contender who bows every game to fans in right field – he might even play catch with a lucky few – told the city the Phillies just might have more games to play in Philadelph­ia.

“We have six more big ones,” he said. “Hopefully, we’re back here Oct. 11 with you guys waving your flags and your towels and we bring back October baseball. We’ve got a big week ahead.”

Not since the halcyon days of Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley have the Phillies played big September games with postseason stakes, and six this week will determine if they make the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

The 28-year-old Harper is doing it all – from sliding headfirst into home to win games to throwing fastballs home from right field to save games – for the Phillies in their pursuit of the NL East crown. He has slugged them into contention since the All-Star break and has them facing a make-orbreak series in Atlanta.

The Braves are in control of the NL East when they open a three-game series with the Phillies on Tuesday. Atlanta leads the division by 21/2 games – its magic number to clinch is five – and the Phillies will likely have to sweep the series to have a shot at the division.

Philadelph­ia ace Zack Wheeler gets the start in the opener against Atlanta’s Charlie Morton.

“We have to go down there, we have do our job, we have to be ready from pitch one,” Harper said. “Every time you play somebody, you want to sweep them.”

The pennant-race pressure cookers are a hefty reason the Phillies gave Harper $330 million over 13 years to sign in 2019.

His contract is big.

His numbers, even bigger. Harper is batting .313 with 34 home runs and 82 RBIs, leads the league with a 1.055 OPS and has a career-high 40 doubles. He has reached base in 22 straight games, the longest active streak in the National League. Harper has walked 20 times over his last 16 games and even has 10 outfield assists. His value to the Phillies makes him the betting favorite at -200 to win NL MVP, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, and in line to earn a second trophy to pair with his 2015 MVP with Washington.

Phillies fans chant “MVP!” for the player known as MV3 (in a nod to his uniform number) for a reason. Harper has managed a bad back that slowed him in the first half – he didn’t make the All-Star team – and his durability down the stretch has been a bonus for manager Joe Girardi.

Just don’t expect Harper to peek at his oversized stats on the scoreboard.

“I haven’t looked at my numbers,” he said. “I don’t like Joe showing me my numbers. I don’t let my friends show me my numbers. I don’t let (wife) Kayla or anything … I don’t look at it on Instagram. Every time my eyes even come close to looking at something, it’s out of it as quick as possible.”

Ask around the National League, though, and Harper is going to have to fight it out for MVP.

Take, for example, San Diego slugger Fernando Tatis Jr., who leads the NL with 41 homers.

“I get a chance to watch Fernando Tatis Jr. perform 18 times a year and he brings an unbelievab­le amount of energy to the field,” Diamondbac­ks manager Torey Lovullo said.

“It’s that type of stuff that he can do that, to me, points him toward him being the potential MVP winner this year. But there are a lot of great candidates.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States