By Tom Alvord
The Philadelphia Phillies are the hottest thing in town at the moment. Yes, that includes the weather.
The Phils are 8-1 in their last 9 games, and just finished off a series sweep of the hated New York Mets. They also find themselves at the top of the NL East for the first time since May 8th. Citizens Bank Park is electric, the team is showing emotion, and the city of Philadelphia is once again behind this team. It’s easy to be reminded of the glory years of 2007-2011 when watching this Phillies team, for the past week and a half. Something this city has been begging for for nearly a decade.
There are many reasons behind the Phillies hot streak. An improved bullpen, the addition of Kyle Gibson, role players playing like starters; the list goes on. However the main reason for the Phillies recent success is they’re two most important players: Zack Wheeler and Bryce Harper.
Saying the Phillies two best players have been red hot would be an understatement. So much so, that it has propelled them into award winning conversation. Both Bryce Harper and Zack Wheeler are now in the top 3 when it comes to odds to win the coveted Cy Young and MVP awards. But how likely is it? Let’s look at the numbers.
The $330 million dollar man has been worth every penny as of late. On the surface, Harper’s season doesn’t exactly look MVP worthy. Through 91 games this season he’s hitting .296 with 65 runs, 20 homers, 45 RBIs and 12 steals. Solid numbers, but not necessarily MVP numbers. However, in the last 30 days he’s been on an absolute tear.
Harpers NL rankings the last 30 days:
OPS= 2nd (1.216)
SLG= 2nd (.711)
OBP= 1st (.505)
AVG= 6th (.355)
SB= T-1st (5)
Walks= T-1st (22)
Doubles= 2nd (12)
Runs= T-7th (18)
That’s more like it. Yes the power numbers have been down this year, that’s obvious. To some people, a guy who ranks 17th in homers and 52nd in RBIs in the National League shouldn’t even be in the same room as the MVP award. However when you look at his situational numbers, the “down” power year may be a bit of an anomaly. When it comes to hitting with runners on, Harper has been on par with the rest of his career. He is currently batting .319 with runners on base, .311 with runners in scoring position, and .600 with the bases loaded (only 5 ABs). Is it as simple as Bryce has just been really unlucky when it comes to his power numbers this season? It’s certainly possible. And if that’s potentially the only thing holding him back from winning his second MVP award, the voters should be taking those numbers into consideration.
Zack Wheeler, on the other hand, doesn’t need a hot streak to convince people he should be award worthy. He’s been incredible all year. Wheeler is currently 1st in the NL in both strikeouts (181) and innings pitched (156). He is also 5th in ERA (2.42), 7th in WHIP (.99), T-1st in complete games (3), and 9th in batting average against (.212). All of this while pitching in front of a defense with the 3rd most errors in the MLB (70). Zack Wheeler is in year two of the 5 year $118 million contract he signed with the Phillies in December of 2019. Despite being doubted by some, this contract has been an absolute steal so far and a Cy Young award would solidify that.
According to Vegasinsider.com the odds of winning both awards may be in the Phillies favor. As of yesterday, Zack Wheeler is currently the favorite to win the 2021 NL Cy Young at +185. Dodgers SP Walker Buehler is right on his tail at +260, followed by Milwaukee’s Corbin Burnes (+475) and Brandon Woodruff (+500). Two time Cy Young winner Jacob DeGrom was the heavy favorite just a month ago, however he is currently on the IL for the third time this season and is scheduled to be out until at least early September. His odds have plummeted to +1500 with less than 2 months remaining in the regular season.
Bryce Harper currently has the second best odds to win NL MVP (+400) trailing only Padres SS Fernando Tatis. It’s necessary to mention, however, that despite Tatis’ mind blowing numbers (30 homers and 25 steals in just 87 games) he has missed 28 games this year and is currently on the IL with a shoulder injury. Even though Tatis says he will return this season, there’s a chance that he is shut down completely for the remainder of the year. If that’s the case, Bryce will be the odds on favorite for the rest of the season. Trailing Harper in the MVP odds is a pair of Dodgers in Max Muncy (+500) and Trea Turner (+750). 2020 NL MVP Freddie Freeman has the fifth best odds at +800.
A hitter and a pitcher of the same team has won both awards 19 different times in MLB history. Most recently it happened in 2013 when Miguel Cabrera won MVP and Max Scherzer won the Cy Young for Dave Dombrowski’s Detroit Tigers. If Harper and Wheeler did happen to accomplish this feat, it wouldn’t be the first time it happened in the city of Philadelphia. The 1980 World Series Champion Fightin Phils had both the Cy Young and MVP winner on the same roster with Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton. It also resulted in one of the greatest photos ever taken.
If I was a betting man (I am) I would feel more confident in Zack Wheeler coming away with the award simply due to the fact that he’s been dominant all season, not just the last month. However, if Bryce can keep his bat hot for the next 50 games and the Phillies find themselves playing in October for the first time in 10 years; it may be time to recreate that iconic photo.