Bryce Harper has had a season to remember and a few days in Atlanta to forget. The importance of the Phillies' three games this week in Atlanta cannot be overstated, and yes, Harper went 0 for 11 in the series as his team was swept and eliminated from playoff contention.
The Phillies hit .138 as a team and scored six runs in three games. Harper did not perform in that series.
He preceded it by carrying the Phillies' offense for more than two months.
From July 23 through September 26 -- a stretch that began and ended with a series against the Braves -- Harper hit .354 with a 1.264 OPS. He reached base in 49.6% of his plate appearances. He hit 23 doubles, a triple and 19 home runs in 262 plate appearances. He walked nine more times than he struck out.
"After those three games, I feel like I let my team down. I feel like I let the city of Philadelphia down," Harper said Friday night after the Phillies at least guaranteed themselves their first winning season in a decade. "But also with that, we ran into some really good pitching. And sometimes that happens.
"As I sit here now and reflect on that series, you want to put that behind you as quickly as possible. You talk about the first winning season. When I signed up to play here, I wasn't worried about winning seasons, right? You sit there and you think it's going to happen no matter what. You think as a team, as an organization, you build it to be great. As we sit here, we have our first winning season in a long time. And that's great for the Phillies. But I don't want it to be like that. I don't want to just sit here and think to ourselves, 'Hey, this is great. We have a winning season.'”
Harper needs a lot more help next season. Rhys Hoskins’ bat was missed but the Phillies need more than one hitter who can protect Harper. J.T. Realmuto did not do the job well enough and is not the long-term answer in the cleanup spot. Andrew McCutchen, a free agent to be, had some pockets of success but would tell you himself that he needs to hit better than .221 with a .335 OBP. Didi Gregorius had a brutal year. Alec Bohm played himself off the field.
In September, Harper has hit .319/.458/.702. The next nine Phillies with the most plate appearances this month have hit a combined .233/.296/.390 -- the equivalent of a No. 8 hitter in a National League lineup.
“We need to be better,” Harper said. “As a team, as an organization ... looking ourselves in the mirror, wondering as a team, as an organization, what do we want the Phillies to be? How do we want to build it? How good can we be next year?”
The Phillies have many holes to fill. They need a new leftfielder and a new centerfielder. They have a convoluted infield picture with a shortstop who can no longer play the position in Gregorius and a third baseman who has not looked like he can stick there in Bohm. Bryson Stott, one of the Phillies’ top prospects, will battle for a job in spring training but it would seem unlikely the Phils would put a rookie shortstop next to Bohm on the left side of the infield. Gregorius has no trade value. Jean Segura would have some, but the Phillies need his bat.
They also need another total bullpen overhaul. Ian Kennedy, Archie Bradley and Hector Neris will be free agents. Neris is worth bringing back as a setup man.
Jose Alvarado, Sam Coonrod and Connor Brogdon are under team control, and Seranthony Dominguez (called up Saturday) could be back in the picture, but Dave Dombrowski and Sam Fuld still need to add talent and experience to a bullpen that has been historically bad two seasons in a row.
The Phillies just wasted what may be the best year they receive from Harper and Zack Wheeler. Those two free-agent moves have worked, but you'd be hard-pressed to find another recent Phillies signing that has, with the exception of maybe Brad Miller. The offseason ahead cannot just be about bargain hunting or one big signing, the Phillies need to add in layers to avoid going home again in October with stars in their prime and one of the game's highest payrolls.