ATLANTA — If the Phillies would have known in spring training that the season would end with their players in conversation to win the MVP and Cy Young awards, they probably would have asked how low their magic number would be this late in September.
Except the Phillies are spending this week at Truist Park across the field from a Braves team that is closing in on a fourth straight division title while the Phillies cling to the slimmest of playoff chances.
The Phillies started this week to tout Bryce Harper’s MVP case and are campaigning for Zack Wheeler to win the Cy Young. If Harper and Wheeler win their awards, the Phillies will be the first team to ever miss the postseason despite having the MVP and Cy Young winners on their roster.
Not counting players who have won both the MVP and Cy Young, 19 teams have had both winners. And all of them — even the 1962 Dodgers, if you count the three-game tiebreaker they lost for the NL pennant — have reached the postseason.
The Phillies’ playoff drought, which would become the longest in baseball if Seattle wins an AL wild card, has been frustrating enough. Missing the postseason with the seasons Harper and Wheeler have had only adds to that frustration.
“I’m not sure I really look at it that way,” manager Joe Girardi said. “Just because winning is a team effort. It’s not two guys. I’ve been on winning teams who didn’t have a Cy Young or an MVP. You can win. I don’t really look at that because it really is a team game. One or two guys can’t do it. Everyone has to do their part.”
Harper leads the majors in OPS (1.050) and ranks third in the NL in batting average (.311), second in on-base percentage (.433), and first in slugging percentage (.617). Wheeler, who struck out seven and allowed two runs Tuesday in seven innings, leads the majors in innings (213⅓) and strikeouts (247), while his 2.78 ERA ranks fifth in the NL.
Harper seems to be the front-runner for the MVP, but Wheeler’s Cy Young race remains crowded. He’ll have one more chance on Sunday in Miami to try and separate himself from the pack as the Phillies realigned their rotation at the start of the month to have Wheeler pitch the season finale. That game, they hoped, would be the one that decided their playoff fate. Instead, it’s lining up to be the final start of Wheeler’s excellent season and the final game before the Phillies head home to watch another postseason without them.
“I think you look at the innings pitched and the amount of pitches he’s thrown from the seventh inning on and how valuable he’s been,” Girardi said. “Sometimes, that’s when you give up the runs, but he’s gone deeper than anyone, more consistently. He’s been a workhorse and pitched extremely well. That’s my pitch.”
Sam Coonrod was available to pitch out of the bullpen after dealing with a thumb infection for the past few days. ... Entering Wednesday, Héctor Neris needs just four strikeouts in the final five games to tie Ron Reed’s career-record 519 strikeouts for most by a Phillies reliever. ...Kyle Gibson will start Thursday’s series finale against Atlanta right-hander Ian Anderson.