Harper can't end Phillies' postseason drought at 10 seasons
By DAN GELSTON
PHILADELPHIA (AP) Bryce Harper logged off his final Zoom of the season - a 2021 in which the Philadelphia Phillies slugger hit .309 with 35 homers and led baseball in OPS - with a hopeful hint about a future conversation.
"Hopefully, I talk to you guys in November," he said.
Harper may get the call next month that he is the National League MVP after he carried the Phillies into NL East contention down to the final week of the season.
Hey, the Phillies might have to set up a postseason awards hotline, with ace Zack Wheeler a top candidate for NL Cy Young.
The Phillies have the players who can make headlines in November.
Well, it's another empty postseason for the Phillies, an NL-worst 10 year-drought since Citizens Bank Park was packed in October and postseason no-hitters and pitchers on their knees made the city the heartbeat of baseball.
Those seasons are distant memories now after a decade of mostly bad baseball and a few near-misses - if 6+ games behind Atlanta in the division qualifies as a near-miss - that have left fans wondering if the Phillies can become true contenders any time in the near future.
"You sit here and think, what's going on? Why are we not doing this?" Harper asked.
The Phillies had their chance when they went to Atlanta for a three-game series that could have put them in first place with a sweep. There was a sweep, only the Braves won all three and clinched the division.
Harper, who turns 29 on Oct. 16, went 0 for 11 with five strikeouts in the series.
But not to blame.
Harper joined Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds and Stan Musial as only the fourth outfielder in MLB history with at least 100 runs, 100 walks, 40 doubles and 35 homers in a season.
His 1.044 OPS was tops in baseball, he added 10 assists and played the final 72 games after a first half in which he was saddled by a sore back and beaned in the face.
The third year of his 13-year, $330-million contract was his best one yet in Philadelphia and he could earn a second MVP trophy to pair with his 2015 award with Washington.
He has no concerns - publicly at least - that his prime years are being wasted in Philadelphia and he again vowed to turn the organization into winners.
"I want to stick it out. I want to play here, I want to be here," he said. "I want to go through the good and the bad."
Phillies fans are ready to start the good.
The Phillies finished 82-80, the first winning record in manager Joe Girardi's two seasons, and first overall since 2011, the final season of their five-year playoff run that included the 2008 World Series title.
"Going on this road trip, we had a chance," Girardi said. "Going into the last month, we had a chance and we weren't able to get it done and that leaves a bad taste."
CY OF RELIEF
One of the few bright spots was Wheeler's season, with a 14-10 record, two shutouts and league highs of 247 strikeouts over 213 1/3 innings pitched.
Wheeler, Milwaukee's Corbin Burnes and Los Angeles' Max Scherzer and Walker Buehler are among the top Cy Young contenders.
The Phillies hope infielder Bryson Stott can win a job in 2022, maybe even as the starting third baseman. Stott, a first-round pick in the 2019 draft, was the organization's winner for top minor league prospect. Stott turns 24 on Thursday and hit .299 with 15 homers and 46 RBIs and had an .879 OPS in 102 minor league games overall this season.
"We need him to be the best player he can be," Harper said.
Stott became friends with Harper over the year and has picked up tips from the slugger.
"He walks a ton. He's always getting himself into good counts. And I rarely ever see him get himself out, which is huge," Stott said. "Obviously, that's something the younger hitters can learn. And seeing how he tones his swing down a little bit with two strikes but he can still do that damage is a big thing that us young hitters can key on, is that you don't have to take that huge swing to produce runs and get those extra-base hits with two strikes."
The Phillies need an organizational overhaul and last week hired Preston Mattingly as their director of player development. Mattingly spent five seasons with the San Diego Padres, the past year as coordinator of major league advance scouting and game planning after serving as manager of scouting for three years.
"We need guys that can come up from the minor leagues that can have success for us," Harper said. "When guys aren't having success from minor leagues to the big leagues, that hurts us, also."
The Phillies' payroll topped $200 million, with all the highest salaries going to players the signed from other teams, such as Harper, Wheeler and Andrew McCutchen.
The Phillies were once the envy of baseball with homegrown stars such as Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels leading them to the postseason. Harper says it's time the Phillies prospects start proving their worth.
"We can't just keep going out and buying and buying and buying," Harper said. "We need homegrown talent. When you look at teams that have homegrown talent, those are the teams that have success. We need our minor leagues to be better. We need guys to come up from the minor leagues and have success and be successful."
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Updated October 4, 2021