Sizing up Bryce Harper’s 2021 NL MVP candidacy with two weeks to go

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Sizing up Bryce Harper’s MVP candidacy with two weeks to go originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Bryce Harper heard the chants of "MVP! ... MVP! ... MVP!" on Thursday night, but he refuses to look at the numbers.

So, we'll do it for him.

On Thursday night, he had the kind of transcendent performance that can define a player's MVP candidacy. He slugged a three-run homer, two doubles and walked twice in leading the Phillies back from an early seven-run deficit to a wild and hugely important 17-8 win over the Chicago Cubs.

The Phillies open a series in New York on Friday night three games back in the NL East race and 2½ back in the wild-card race with 16 to play.

As injury and inconsistency have hit the Phillies hard in the second half of the season, Harper has carried the club and is the biggest reason it remains in contention with a chance to break a haunting nine-year postseason drought.

Over the last 25 games, Harper has hit .404 with a .509 on-base percentage and a .888 slugging percentage. He has 11 home runs and 27 RBIs over that span.

"It's been a show for quite a while here," manager Joe Girardi said. "It's been pretty impressive.

Girardi endorsed Harper for the National League MVP award after Thursday night's game.

"He's meant so much to our team and what we're doing here," Girardi said. "His numbers are incredible. It's not the MVP of the playoffs, it's the MVP of the season and I think he's earning it."

Harper is hitting .314 with 33 homers, 36 doubles, 77 RBIs and a 1.055 OPS, which leads the majors.

In the NL, he ranks second (tied) in batting average, second in on-base percentage (.428), second in slugging (.627), second in doubles and fourth in homers. He leads the league with 70 extra-base hits.

The area where Harper lags behind some other NL MVP candidates is RBIs. He ranks 24th in the league with 77, 24 behind league leader Adam Duvall of the Braves and 22 behind second-ranked Nolan Arenado of the Cardinals.

There are reasons for Harper's relatively low RBI total. He hits third in the lineup and the Phillies rank 29th and 28th, respectively, in on-base percentage in the leadoff and No. 2 spot in the batting order. Entering Friday, Harper ranked 44thin the NL with 212 plate appearances with runners on base. To put that in perspective, Arenado led the league with 312 plate appearances with runners on base, exactly 100 more than Harper.

"I think the first thing people go to is home run and RBI totals, but RBI totals a lot of times depend on who's in front of you," Girardi said. "You look at what he's doing with the OPS. It's really good."

Harper won't look at the stats to see where he stacks up with all the other MVP candidates, and there are many of them in the conversation, most notably Fernando Tatis Jr. of the Padres. Max Muncy, Nick Castellanos, Jesse Winker, Freddie Freeman, Austin Riley, Brandon Crawford, Paul Goldschmidt, Arenado and others are also there.

Harper's focus remains getting to the postseason. If he leads that cause, the numbers and the MVP consideration will take care of itself.

"I really don't want to look at my numbers," he said. "I haven't looked at my numbers. I don't let Joe show me my numbers. I don't let my friends show me my numbers. I don't let (my wife) Kayla or anything. I don't look at them on Instagram. Every time my eyes even come close to looking at something, it's out of it as quick as possible. 

"I'm a very big season guy. I'll look at my numbers at the end, see where I can improve, where I can get better, but also where it's going to be. I know that's kind of crazy and it doesn't make sense, but I don't like MVP talk. I don't like looking at my numbers. I don't like looking where I'm at or where I am in the second half, or anything like that. I just want to play my game. I just want to show up every night, make sure I'm playing right field, batting third, and helping this team win."

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