Phillies

Bryce Harper in a wicked slump, but Phillies don't earn this satisfying win without his glove

Bryce Harper in a wicked slump, but Phillies don't earn this satisfying win without his glove

Bryce Harper has contributed more to the Phillies lately with his glove than his bat.

What's that saying, you can't predict ball?

Harper made a game-saving diving catch with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh inning of a tied game Monday night. In the bottom half of the inning, the Phillies scored three runs to claim a 7-4 victory over the Brewers on a cold, wet, long, miserable night.

This was one of the Phillies' more satisfying wins of the season given the conditions. It was 48 degrees at first pitch after a 52-minute rain delay but felt even colder. The game was played at a plodding pace, with Aaron Nola and Brewers starter Freddy Peralta combining to throw 153 pitches through the first three innings.

But finally, after a poor start from Nola, six strong innings from the bullpen, another big night from Cesar Hernandez and Harper's timely defense, the Phillies came away with a series-opening victory over a dangerous Brewers team (see observations).

"A lot of adrenaline in the dugout tonight. Our guys really fought and were focused the entire night," manager Gabe Kapler said. "After going down early and a short start from Nola, it would have been easy to quit after that long road trip but we kept on fighting.

"It was also gratifying to see Harper contribute the way he did on defense. The catch was sensational, a pivotal moment in the game. Really won the game for us in a lot of ways."

Harper has been ice cold at the plate. Over his last 20 games, he's 10 for 68 (.147) with two home runs and 28 strikeouts. He's struck out multiple times in seven of his last nine games and all of his numbers — batting average, OBP, home runs, walk total — are lower than they were at this time a year ago.

But unlike last season, Harper is making an impact in right field. He had a nightmarish defensive season in 2018. He dove for one ball all season and threw to the wrong base too frequently. In spring training, Harper spoke about how shifting between center field and right field wore him out and affected him as the year progressed. This season, he hasn't had to worry about manning center. He might not play an inning of center field over the course of this 13-year contract.

Earlier in his career, Harper was more prone to carrying a few bad at-bats — or a few weeks' worth — into the field with him. This is a different player, a more grown-up player.

"I'm just trying to keep my head in it no matter what," Harper said. "I think earlier in my career, being young, I wanted to do my best every single time. Of course I still do right now, but it's both sides of the ball. You've got to stay focused on both sides no matter your outcome at the plate. My pitchers need me."

Like Harper, Nola has also gotten off to a slow start. At this time a year ago, Nola had a 1.99 ERA. He showed signs last Monday in St. Louis of returning to that Cy Young-caliber form with by far his best curveball and best overall command against a potent Cardinals lineup. That did not transfer over to this start. Nola didn't want to blame the cold or wet conditions for the command issues he referred to as "embarrassing," but he just wasn't himself Monday. 

Through nine starts, Nola's ERA is 4.86.

The bullpen picked him up with six innings of one-run ball. The biggest outs were generated by lefty Jose Alvarez, who has been unreliable at times this season. He stabilized the game by getting four outs after shaky performances from Nola, Austin Davis and Juan Nicasio.

"Noles just wasn't Noles tonight, that's baseball," Harper said. "But our bullpen came in and did the job."

The Phillies' bullpen has been unheralded but has been among the best in baseball. The unit's 3.78 ERA is seventh best in the majors and third best in the National League behind only the Reds and Giants.

At the quarter-pole, the Phils are 24-16 with a plus-42 run differential. 

Last season through 40 games, the Phils were 24-16 with a plus-42 run differential.

This feels eminently more sustainable, though. And it should be encouraging to those watching that the Phillies have arrived at this record with Harper and Nola — their most important hitter and most important pitcher — both performing well below their capabilities.

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It turns out Jeopardy host Alex Trebek isn't the biggest fan of the Phanatic

It turns out Jeopardy host Alex Trebek isn't the biggest fan of the Phanatic

Jeopardy has been home to some great moments regarding Philadelphia sports in the past.

 I wish this was another one of these moments ... but it's not.

 It turns out, the show's host host Alex Trebek isn't a big fan of the Phillie Phanatic ... I know, I'm hurt too.


 The Phillies are in disbelief, we all are.
 
 Of course, fans had quite the reaction to the video that surfaced on social media. After all, the Phanatic is the best mascot in all of sports (totally unbiased, of course).




 

I don't even want to know what he thinks about Gritty.

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Bryce Harper shares thoughts on Nationals playing in World Series without him

Bryce Harper shares thoughts on Nationals playing in World Series without him

Right around the time the Washington Nationals were clinching their World Series berth this week, a guy who left that team to come play in Philadelphia posted a cute photo to his Instagram story with his baby son. It included the caption, "cuddle time is the best time."

I made light of the juxtaposition of that photo with what Nationals players were currently doing in a tongue-in-cheek tweet, but it's hard not to think about Bryce Harper during this Nationals run.

We know exactly how Nationals fans down in DC feel about their former favorite slugger who departed DC for big time bucks. They won't stop telling us.

But what was Harper feeling? Thanks to a one-on-one interview Harper did with Jayson Stark of the Athletic, we now have a glimpse into Harper's mind during this unique time.

Stark says Harper was effusive in his praise of the city of Philadelphia during their chat. And the majority of Harper's answers are very savvy in a public relations sense. Harper is good at saying what you think he's supposed to say. But it doesn't come off as disingenuous.

Stark asked Harper if he was feeling any jealousy watching his old pals spray champagne in the locker room and his answer comes off as pretty honest. From the Athletic ($):

“No,” he said again, without a millisecond’s hesitation, “because like I said, I made my decision, and that was my decision. And it was the final decision that I made. You know, jealousy isn’t good. For me, it’s about having the gratitude to go out and do what I do each day and not having an attitude towards anybody else.

“I think it’s about being able to be the person that I am,” he went on, “and not saying to myself, `Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I’m not a National.’ Or, `Oh my gosh, those guys are doing what they’re doing. I can’t believe it. I’m so jealous.’ No. I’m so happy for them. You know how hard it is to get into the postseason and win games. For them to be able to put it together this year the way they have, it’s an amazing thing.”

There's plenty more to the piece worth diving into. Stark also spoke with former National/Phillie Jayson Werth, who knows a thing or two about both cities/clubs and also what it's like to play alongside Harper.

The Nationals' opponent in the World Series is yet to be set, but whether it's the Nationals, New York Yankees or Houston Astros who are spraying champagne at the end of it, you won't see Harper doing that. Unless he and his little baby pop up in his Instagram stories getting wacky.

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