July 19, 2022
If you told me in March that by the All-Star break the Phillies would have one of the three Wild Card spots in the National League postseason race, I would've easily believed you. If you told me that at the beginning of June with the team eight games under .500, I would've laughed in your face. Yet here the Phils are at 49-43 and pushing for the franchise's first playoff berth in 11 years.
As the team gets ready for the second half of the season, I'll hand out some awards for an entertaining and uneven first half of 2022...
Yes, Bryce Harper has been absent from action since June 25, but Harper was having yet another MVP-caliber season before he went down with a fractured left hand after being hit by a pitch. Harper essentially single handedly carried the Phillies as they treaded water during the first two months of the season and was an integral cog as the team's June hot streak turned the season around. Harper's OPS+ of 174 in 2022 is the third-highest mark in his budding Hall of Fame career.
Taking a look at a different meaning of "valuable," Harper's absence is felt so hard as other hitters in the lineup progress through massive cold and hot streaks. The consistency of Harper's greatness is sorrily missed. Who couldn't use one of the best players in the sport, right?
The Phillies aren't in that final Wild Card spot without Harper's early season heroics. They'd also be closer to one of the top-two spots in the Wild Card race if Harper was still in the lineup.
Schwarber went out softy in the first round of the Home Run Derby, but he still carries a big stick. Schwarber's 29 home runs are the most in the National League. "June Schwarber" took on mythical status in Philadelphia, as the slugger had a 1.065 and 12 dingers in the month. If someone wanted to hand Schwarber the MVP Award for the Phils at this point in the season, I'd have no qualms with it. Make him the 1B to Harper's 1A for now with the potential to jump up to the top if he continues destroying baseballs while Harper remains out and the Phillies find themselves playing meaningful October baseball.
Harper: Now might be a really good time for you to get angry.
Schwarbs: That's my secret, Bryce. I'm always angry.
I've always adhered to the line of thinking that you can't complain about Philadelphia unless you live in the city itself, akin to the way you're allowed to make fun of your friends, but if a stranger does, things are going to hit the fan. Bohm might be Nebraska native, but he endeared himself to the Philly faithful after owning his comments following his infamous "I f*****g hate this place" moment back in April.
Bohm flashed future All-Star potential as a rookie in 2020 before enduring a disastrous 2021 campaign. Inching towards his 26th birthday next month, it looks as if Bohm likely won't reach those expectations the fans set for him back in 2020, but he's been solid enough lately. Since the Phils' fortunes flipped at the start of June, Bohm is hitting .284. For a team starved for competent hitting on the left side of the infield, that's worked out reasonably well for the team.
There's nothing more Philadelphian than letting your emotions get the best of you, dropping an f-bomb in an inflammatory statement and then picking up the pieces to make yourself better along the way.
If you want to call BS on this award for a player who once finished top three in Cy Young voting, I get it, but hear me out. Following that stellar 2018 performance from Aaron Nola, he had a 4.08 ERA in 78 starts over the next three seasons. Entering his age-29 season, I began to think that's truly who Nola was and his '18 performance was more of an anomaly. I give props where props are due: Nola has been money in 2022.
Nola leads the majors in strikeout-to-walk ratio with a 3.13 ERA and the fifth-most strikeouts in all of baseball (137). His command is as good as ever. His final start of the first half of the season this past Sunday was elite: 8.1 innings, zero runs surrendered and 10 Ks.
Back in April as the Phils struggled immensely, it felt that the squad wasn't even going to get their best from their top-two rotation guys as the whole pitching slate from starters to relievers was a mess. How things have changed!
Rob Thomson looks like a guy who will have the "interim" label removed from his official job title this offseason. I wrote at length about Thomson's impact since he took over for Joe Girardi in June on Monday:
It's essentially impossible to quantify the impact a manager can have on a ball club. In football, for instance, it's way more tangible seeing an offensive mind's play-calling or a defensive coach's scheme. Thomson didn't magically tell Alec Bohm, "Hey, pal, maybe you should start putting the bat on the ball." He's not out there aiding Aaron Nola's command like an extra in "Angels in the Outfield." The longer the Phillies play unlike the team this city has long been accustomed too, however, the harder it becomes to push aside Thomson's influence.
The Phillies are in an unfathomable position relative to where they stood at the beginning of June. They lost the reigning MVP in Bryce Harper, who was certainly playing like a guy who could've won it again in 2022, for a significant period of time since then. Everything that should be going wrong for the Phillies is going right. It might be reductive to simply say that a baseball manager's job is "vibes," but the vibes sure are different right now than how they were during the Girardi era.
Congrats on not being Girardi, Topper!
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