Phils need to fill Harper-sized hole in lineup

May 19th, 2022

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies need Bryce Harper back, and they need him back soon.

Friday would be great.

Harper has not played since receiving a PRP injection into his right elbow on Sunday in Los Angeles. His presence alone wouldn’t have guaranteed success this week against San Diego at Citizens Bank Park. But Harper is one of the best hitters in baseball, and he is coming off one of the best weeks of his career. It stands to reason that he would have helped the cause. Instead, the Phillies lost Thursday’s series finale, 2-0, to lose the three-game series and fall to 18-20. They are seven games behind the Mets (26-14) in the NL East.

The Phillies were shut out in both losses to San Diego. They have been shut out five times this season.

“Obviously, it’s a presence that’s missed,” Phillies left fielder Kyle Schwarber said of Harper. “But this is also a team, right? We all want Bryce in the lineup. He’s a staple MVP. We want him in the lineup, and when he’s not in the lineup, we need to be able to pick that up and go from there. It is what it is. We have to do a better job of picking him up while he’s not in the lineup.”

The Phillies are 1-3 without Harper this week.

Can one man really make that much of a difference? Harper is batting .305 with nine home runs, 27 RBIs and a .994 OPS. He leads the NL with a .634 slugging percentage. He slashed .600/.643/1.261 with six doubles, three homers, eight RBIs and three stolen bases in six games last week in Seattle and LA to be named NL Player of the Week. He was just the fifth player since at least 1901 to bat .600 or better with at least nine extra-base hits and three stolen bases in a six-game span, joining Fernando Tatis Jr. (2021), Joe Morgan (1976), Ken Henderson (1972) and Ty Cobb (1912).

“Anytime you have a player like that, you’re always missing him,” Kyle Gibson said. “But I wouldn’t say guys are trying to do too much. [Padres starting pitcher Yu] Darvish threw the ball really well today.”

The Phillies hope Harper will be back for Friday’s series opener against the Dodgers, but it is not a guarantee. He took some light swings in the batting cage on Wednesday. He was expected to take a few more Thursday.

So scoring runs fell to the rest of the hitters in the lineup, like Schwarber. He went 1-for-4 with one strikeout on Thursday. The strikeout came in the sixth with runners on first and third and one out.

It was one of the Phillies’ best scoring opportunities of the afternoon.

“I wish I would have gotten the job done there,” Schwarber said. “That’s the thing that will sit with you. You’ve got to put the ball in play. You don’t know what can happen from there.”

Schwarber is batting .189 with nine home runs, 21 RBIs and a .718 OPS. He has 49 strikeouts and 18 walks. His 32.2 percent strikeout rate entering the game ranked seventh out of 173 qualified Major League hitters, according to FanGraphs. Strangely, offense is down so much in baseball this season that Schwarber entered the afternoon with a 109 OPS+, meaning he is hitting nine percent better than league average.

It is no solace to Schwarber. He knows he needs to hit much better than he has been.

The Phillies need him to be better, too.

“It’s somewhat of a struggle for Schwarbs for pretty much the whole year,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said. “He hasn’t been as consistent as he’s capable of being. But that will change.”

Schwarber singled in his final at-bat in the eighth. Maybe it is something to carry into the Dodgers series.

“You’ve got to keep working, right?” Schwarber said. “You’ve got to keep going. Working smart, not overworking. I’m not foreign to starting off slow. I just have to keep putting in the work and be consistent in the cage and going out to the field and trusting it out there.”