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Realmuto has been Phils' MVP with career year

@ToddZolecki
September 13, 2019

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies believed they acquired the best catcher in baseball in February. J.T. Realmuto has lived up to the hype. He hit a two-run home run in the eighth inning in Thursday night’s 9-5 victory over the Braves at Citizens Bank Park to join Mike Lieberthal (31 home

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies believed they acquired the best catcher in baseball in February. J.T. Realmuto has lived up to the hype.

He hit a two-run home run in the eighth inning in Thursday night’s 9-5 victory over the Braves at Citizens Bank Park to join Mike Lieberthal (31 home runs in 1999), Benito Santiago (30, ‘96), Darren Daulton (27, ‘92) and Stan Lopata (32, ‘56) as the only five catchers in Phillies history with 25 home runs in a season. But Realmuto has been so much more than home runs. He has been one of the best players in the National League.

He will not be NL MVP, but it is not a stretch to think he could finish in the top five in voting. He has been that good.

“He has for us,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said, when asked if Realmuto has moved into MVP consideration. “I don’t think there’s a Phillies player, staff member, front office member or fan who wouldn’t say the same thing.”

Realmuto is batting .279 with 34 doubles, three triples, 25 home runs, 82 RBIs and an .835 OPS in 564 plate appearances. He has set career highs in runs (89), doubles, home runs, RBIs and walks (40). He is on pace to set career-highs in slugging percentage (.504) and OPS. His work behind the plate has been fantastic, too. He has started 123 games at catcher, 13 more than any other catcher in baseball. He has caught 1,079 1/3 innings, nearly 90 innings more than any other catcher. He has caught 42 runners stealing, 18 more than any other catcher.

He is fifth in the National League with a 5.7 WAR, according to FanGraphs. Only Christian Yelich (7.7), Cody Bellinger (7.2), Anthony Rendon (7.0) and Ketel Marte (6.9) rank higher among position players.

In his first four-plus seasons in the big leagues with the Marlins, Realmuto performed slightly better before the All-Star break (.785 OPS) than after the break (.747). But this season he is finishing strong. He had a .767 OPS before the break. He has put up a .939 OPS since.

“Gabe's done a really good job of giving me days when I need them,” Realmuto said. “And then also just being a part of this playoff race, that gives you some extra adrenaline that I haven't had in the past. Kind of makes me forget I'm tired once the game starts. That's been a big plus for me.”

“You wonder if you really ride a catcher, if around this time they start to fade or if they begin to fatigue or if you have to give them additional days off as a result,” Kapler said. “And somehow, some way in the second half of the season it has worked in just the opposite fashion for J.T. He's getting stronger. His at-bats are getting better. He's better in big situations. Still throwing well. Still popping up and being athletic like he was in the first half. It just seems like we're seeing the best version of J.T. right now.”

They will need Realmuto to maintain that level of play over the season’s final 16 games. They will need the rest of the offense to hit, too. Entering Friday, the Phillies were two games behind the Brewers and Cubs for the second National League Wild Card spot and were tied with the Mets.

“Yeah, we feel like we're starting to get to where we needed to be all year long,” Realmuto said about the offense. “We feel like we could've done a lot better offensively the first half of the season. But we feel like we're clicking at the right time. These are the times, especially the teams that are coming up have really great pitching, but they also have really great offenses, so we're going to need to score runs. That's what we've got to do to win.”

The Phillies are slashing .263/.332/.490 and averaging 5.6 runs per game since naming Charlie Manuel their hitting coach on Aug. 12. They slashed .245/.322/.417 and averaged 4.7 runs per game before that point. They are hitting fastballs in the strike zone better over the past month (.372 wOBA, ninth in MLB) compared to earlier (.336 wOBA, 25th). They are swinging earlier in the count, swinging at the first pitch 31.1 percent of the time (sixth in MLB) compared to (28.9 percent, 19th) earlier.

“I don't know if I could point to one thing,” Realmuto said of the offense’s recent uptick. “I think everybody's being more aggressive at the plate and not trying to do too much, which is a big thing for us. If we just go up there and take our simple approach and get things done, it seems to work out better for us.”

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook .