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Phillies Cardinals Series Preview: Stop Wasting Bryce Harper, For Our Sake

The Phillies are slumping, and they have a chance to snap out of it.

Despite the best efforts of Bryce Harper, they’re coming off of an embarrassing 12-2 shellacking at the hands of the Colorado Rockies. They’re also wasting a chance to gain ground in the NL East that’s been subpar this year. Their 10-11 record ranks second among their division, a game above everyone else but a game behind the 9-8 New York Mets. Philadelphia last saw the St Louis Cardinals in a three-game series on April 16th, where they were able to escape with the series victory. For the four-game series in St Louis coming up, here are some things to watch.

Bryce Harper, MVP?

I probably don’t need to tell you Bryce Harper’s great. He was the lone bright spot in their last game, launching two home runs including a 468-foot BOMB to score the Phillies only runs. But it isn’t just recently, he’s been great all season long.

Harper is just outside the top 10 in traditional batting average, but is 6th in on base percentage, 8th in slugging percentage and 5th in OPS, tied for the 4th most runs scored in the league, tied for the second most home runs in baseball and still is near the top of the walk's leaderboard.

And he’s still underperforming.

Statcast keep tracks of ‘expected’ stats. Using data about launch angle, velocity, etc. They calculate how likely it is each ball is a hit, flyout, home run, or whatever else. They use that data to calculate stats that show a players expected performance based just on how well they swing the bat. Statcast has three expected stats, xSLG (expected slugging percentage) and xwOBA (expected weighted on base percentage, so a homerun is worth more than a single) and xBA (expected batting average). Using those leaderboards should separate the guys who are getting both unlucky and lucky and put them on even playing fields.

Bryce Harper leads the MLB in all three, by a comfortable margin. His only challengers are Mike Trout and Ronald Acuña Jr.

At the plate, he’s been special. So, let’s play a fun game. One of these years was Bryce Harper’s 2015 MVP season, which is one of the best non-Barry Bonds years in recent history. The other is Bryce so far this season.

The numbers on the bottom are 2021. By most metrics, Bryce Harper is having another 2015 season, while still being extremely unlucky and having multiple home runs being taken away from him. The team needs to find a way to stop wasting this, because he’s putting on a show worth the price of admission each and every night.

The Pitchers

The Phillies can feel semi-confident about the pitching matchups for the first half of this series, as well as the final game. Monday and Tuesday night, both Zack/h’s will start, with Wheeler on tap for the series opener. For the closing game on Thursday, ace Aaron Nola will take the mound. The Cardinals first two starters (Adam Wainwright and Carlos Martinez) both sport ERA’s over 5. On Wednesday, Joe Girardi's starter is TBD, but they’ll face Johan Oviedo, who has struggled this season. Facing off against Nola will be Kwang Hyun Kim, who in his last outing only allowed a solo blast and 5 hits in 5.2 innings of work. I feel like I say this every time, but the opportunity is there for the Phillies to get their offense back in a groove, and we’re all waiting on it happening.

Lineup Notes

The Phillies are scoring 3.95 runs a game this season, which would be their lowest average since 2016. They’re 21st in the league in home runs, 22nd in RBIs, and have the 11th most strikeouts. They’re also leaving 7.05 runners on base per game, which ranks 22nd in the MLB. With runners in scoring position, they’re batting average of .224 is 20th overall. So, what are my suggestions other than just waiting for a hot streak?

  • Move Andrew McCutchen from the leadoff spot. His batting average is .154, and he has 15 total bases after 80 plate appearances. You can move him later in the lineup or give him a game or two to step away, but something needs to be done soon.

  • When Jean Segura (.333 BA) returns from the IL, that leadoff spot should be his. If you want to replace Cutch in the lineup all together, potential options include Matt Joyce, Brad Miller and Roman Quinn (please no). I do have a personal favorite for the leadoff spot if Cutch slides down in the lineup, and that’s:

  • Nick Maton. He needs to be getting as many at bats as possible, however he can find them. He has the hot hand as of late, hitting .500 across 24 plate appearances while filling in for both Didi and Segura. If he can continue to hit at a clip even close to that, he can be valuable as someone who can get on base and put himself in scoring position for other bats later in the Phillies lineup.

  • Alec Bohm might be on the edge of turning it around. Using the same expected stats from earlier, Bohm is getting super unlucky at the plate by underperforming every expected statistic by a comfortable margin. Even while all of that is happening, he’s tied with Didi and Rhys Hoskins for the team lead in RBIs.

  • Odubel Herrera's contract has been selected as of Monday, and with Mickey Moniak being sent down it looks like Herrera will start in CF for now. He'll look to bring consistency and a bit of power to a spot that's been like a second pitcher all year. Herrera last played for the Phillies in the big leagues in 2019 before a domestic violence suspension that lasted 85 games. In 53 plate appearances in spring training this year, Herrera had 4 home runs, batted .231 and had 25 total bases.

Series Overview

The Phillies have a four-game series against 3 mediocre at best pitchers, with their 3 top starters taking the mound. Their opponent has a good offense, and the Phillies bats are needed at this one to capitalize on the production of their superstar at his peak. Even with a shaky bullpen missing pieces, the Phillies should at absolute worst split this series. My expectation is for them to win the three game their top pitchers start and the bullpen will determine the fate of last one. Philadelphia has a golden opportunity to establish themselves in the early playoff picture, and they need to take it.

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