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Phillies could make unfortunate history by winning Cy Young and MVP awards

Sweeping baseball's two biggest awards and miss the playoffs? The Phillies would be the first, an indication of the work that lies ahead this offseason.

The Phillies' Zack Wheeler led the National League in innings (213.1) and strikeouts (247).
The Phillies' Zack Wheeler led the National League in innings (213.1) and strikeouts (247).Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

Dave Dombrowski spent almost 14 seasons in Detroit and built two pennant winners but could not bring the Tigers the World Series crown that has eluded them since 1984. His pitching rotations featured Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer and David Price and Rick Porcello. The heart of those lineups included Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and J.D. Martinez.

“I mean there’s three sure-bet Hall of Famers, right? We didn’t win the World Series,” Dombrowski said. “I went through that experience and looked at the players we had on that team and it shows how tough it is to win and to get there. To this day, I shake my head. I don’t know if I’ll ever have a talented group of individuals and yet we didn’t win it all.”

No one confused the Phillies this season with the Tigers of 10 years ago, but Dombrowski referenced his time in Detroit last week at baseball’s general manager meetings when asked about the possibility of the Phillies claiming the Cy Young and MVP awards after missing the playoffs.

» READ MORE: All-Star, MVP ... Hall of Famer? Exploring Bryce Harper's case for Cooperstown

Those seasons with the Tigers, Dombrowski said, can illustrate how difficult it is to win even with a talented roster. But at least those teams made the playoffs.

The Phillies could sweep the National League’s premier awards — Zack Wheeler is a finalist for the Cy Young and Bryce Harper is the favorite to be the MVP — this week despite missing the postseason by 6½ games and extending their playoff drought to 10 seasons.

Not counting players who have won both the MVP and Cy Young, 19 teams have had both winners, including Dombrowski’s 2013 Tigers. And all of them — even the 1962 Dodgers, if you count the three-game tiebreaker they lost for the NL pennant — reached the postseason.

Wheeler led the NL in innings (213⅓) and strikeouts (247) but finished fifth in ERA (2.78) with a 2.59 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) that ranked second. He’s expected to garner first-place votes when results are announced Wednesday night, but it’s unclear if he’ll get enough support to top Milwaukee’s Corbin Burnes, who led the NL with a 2.43 ERA but pitched just 167 innings and Scherzer of the Dodgers, who had a 2.46 ERA in 179⅓ innings.

Harper led the majors in slugging percentage (.615) and OPS (1.044) and is expected to beat out Washington’s Juan Soto and San Diego’s Fernando Tatis Jr. to be the Phillies’ first MVP since Jimmy Rollins in 2007.

Harper’s OPS+ (179) was the third-highest in franchise history since 1900 and Wheeler joined Curt Schilling, Steve Carlton, Grover Cleveland Alexander, and Jim Bunning as the only pitchers in franchise history to log 200 or more innings and 240 or more strikeouts.

Harper and Wheeler had historic individual seasons. But will the team’s playoff miss sting even more if Wheeler wins the Cy Young on Wednesday night and Harper wins the MVP a night later?

“No. It stings anyway. It doesn’t matter if they win it or they don’t win it,” Dombrowski said. “I think what it tells me, and I said this right when I got here and I didn’t know the organization as well, is that it’s a really good core. Now what we have to do is improve the surrounding cast. However we do that.

» READ MORE: What we learned from the GM meetings about the Phillies’ offseason plans

“I don’t really think at times when I looked at our club that we weren’t quite good enough to do it. But still starting this year with Harper and Wheeler and the other supporting cast is a good place to build around. No, I don’t think it will sting more if they win or don’t win.”

Dombrowski’s plan to improve his team’s supporting cast this offseasom includes adding two outfielders to play next to Harper and a power bat to hit behind him in the lineup. He said last week that his top priority is adding a closer and he’d likely supplement that pitcher with a handful of new late-inning relievers as the bullpen recorded 65% of its major league-leading 35 blown saves before the ninth inning.

The Phillies have work to do this offseason, but they do at least have two of the game’s premier players on their roster. They last swept the MVP and Cy Young in 1980 when Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton claimed the hardware just four weeks after parading down Broad Street.

» READ MORE: The Phillies need outfield help. It’s time to go shopping again.

Those awards put an exclamation point on a championship season and the only sting felt that fall in Philly was the champagne that burnt eyes that October at Veterans Stadium. It’s hard to find a better month in franchise history as the Phils finally won it all and then their two stars swept baseball’s premier awards. The Phillies were on top.

The Phillies could repeat that some of that history this week, but the awards will feel a bit different if they do. It will be an affirmation of the talent the Phillies have but a reminder of the talent they still need to finally get back to the postseason after a decade of quiet Octobers. An ace pitcher and a premier hitter are a good place to start. But it will take more to alleviate this sting.