Bryce Harper’s name has been bandied about as the frontrunner for the National League MVP, and deservedly so.
Zack Wheeler’s name has been mentioned as a candidate for the N.L. Cy Young Award, and while he likely won’t win it, he definitely belongs in the conversation.
It’s a shame there isn’t an award though recognizing the unsung hero in the National League, because there wouldn’t be a better candidate than Ranger Suarez.
Suarez has done a little bit of everything this season for the Phillies, and Saturday, all he did was keep them in the playoff race.
Suarez threw, what is now commonly termed, a “Maddux.” It’s when a pitcher throws a complete game shutout and does so with fewer than 100 pitches, something Hall of Famer Greg Maddux seemed to do with regularity.
Suarez’s “Maddux” was a thing of beauty. He allowed just four singles. No Pittsburgh Pirate reached second base, and three of those hits were wiped out by double plays, meaning Suarez faced just 28 hitters, one more than the minimum in a nine-inning game. He also had seven strikeouts, including four straight in the seventh and eighth innings, and didn’t walk anyone. He threw 97 pitches.
The Phillies won 3-0. It was their 5th win in a row and it was important as it kept them just 1 1/2 games out of first place behind the Atlanta Braves.
This after the Braves overcame deficits of 3-0, 7-3 and 8-7 to beat the San Diego Padres in 10 innings Saturday.
So it was imperative that Suarez was on his game. Even more imperative was the length that he threw. Saving the bullpen was an absolute necessity Saturday with a bullpen game on the horizon Sunday and minus several relievers who were unavailable either because of overuse and needed rest, or because of injury.
“We needed that really bad,” said Phillies manager Joe Girardi. “We had a number of guys that weren’t available today out of the bullpen, so we would have had to rely on some inexperienced kids if Ranger didn’t do what he did.”
Go Go Power Ranger 🔋
Ranger Suarez tosses a 4-hit shutout on just 97 pitches 🤯 pic.twitter.com/sJF7gjReVg
— MLB (@MLB) September 25, 2021
It was the first complete game for Suarez (7-5) who has has had a heck of an adventure for the Phillies this year.
Suarez was late arriving to Spring Training because of travel issues related to COVID-19. That delayed the start of his season. When he first joined the Phillies in May, he was a multiple-inning reliever. He then shifted to more high-leverage roles and was even the team’s closer for a short time before joining the rotation at the beginning of August.
Despite all that, Suarez has thrown 99 innings for the Phillies and has a 1.45 ERA. He has a WHIP of just 1.00 and according to Baseball Reference, His 5.4 WAR is seventh-best in the N.L. among pitchers behind only Wheeler, Max Scherzer, Corbin Burnes, Wade Miley, Brandon Woodruff and Walker Buehler, all names that have been part of that aforementioned Cy Young conversation.
“I always try to go out there and do my best to attack hitters,” Suarez said, through a team interpreter. “Today I felt I had good command of my pitches, more than usual – especially my slider.
“When you are a starting pitcher, you must have a third pitch. When I was a reliever, I wasn’t paying much attention to it. I had it, but I wasn’t paying attention to it. When they told me I was going to start this year, I wanted to start working on it and today it helped me a lot.”
It’s helped so much that it’s hard to imagine the Phillies not revamping their rotation to get Suarez to pitch the final game of the series against Atlanta next week.
With the off day Monday, the Phillies can juggle their rotation if necessary as all four of their starters will be rested for the series.
Wheeler is almost a lead pipe lock to start Tuesday. After that is where the Phillies could get creative. Both Aaron Nola and Kyle Gibson have struggled of late. Both will be rested enough to pitch Wednesday. It’s a matter of whom the Phillies like more in a matchup against Atlanta – likely Nola. Suarez can then be bumped ahead of Gibson to pitch the final game against the Braves on Thursday.
That would set up the final weekend in Florida with Gibson, a bullpen game and Wheeler, if he’s needed for Game 162.
CONTROLLING THEIR DESTINY
There was a lot of talk about this after the game Saturday. The Phillies technically need no help to win the N.L. East. At a season-best seven games over .500 (81-74) The Phillies can win the division out right by winning their final seven games.
When asked if he felt good about being in that position, Girardi agreed.
“You have to feel that way,” he said. “That’s all you can ask for. You want to control your own destiny. You don’t want to rely on other people.”
Nevertheless, getting some help wouldn’t be a bad thing.
For instance, if the Braves lose to the Padres Sunday or one of the final three games of the season against the New York Mets, the Phillies can go 6-1 over those final seven games, and have the one loss be against the Braves, and still finish at least tied for the Division.
Or, they can go 5-2 in the last seven, assuming a sweep of Atlanta, and be in the top spot.
So, getting help isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It allows for a little more wiggle room. And although the Phillies are playing excellent baseball lately, going 9-2 in their last 11 games, we’ve seen instances this season where having some wiggle room might be beneficial to this team.
HARPER BEING HARPER
It was just another ho-hum game for the should-be MVP. Harper reached base twice more, once on a walk and once on his 34th homerun of the season.
— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) September 25, 2021
Harper is one homer shy of matching his best mark as a Phillie – he hit 35 homers in 2019 – and two homers away from reaching the most by a Phillie since Ryan Howard hit 45 in 2009.
In addition, Harper’s homer was his 46th extra base hit since the All-Star break. That set a franchise record, surpassing both Howard (2006) and Chase Utley (2005) who each had 45 in the second half.
Bryce Harper since the all-star break:
46 extra-base hits in 66 games.
That’s a 162-game pace of 113 XBH over a full season.
Last player with 110 XBH in a season: Lou Gehrig, in 1927
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) September 25, 2021
“I don’t think you can say enough with what he’s done for us,” Girardi said. “Even when they are pitching around him, he’s on base three times a game. Nothing he does really surprises me.”
SPEAKING OF SURPRISES
Raise your hand if you had Matt Vierling on the list of players who would be clutch performers in a pennant chase for the Phillies this season.
The first-year outfielder, who has also started learning the finer points of playing first base, has been a pleasant surprise for the Phillies.
Usually only called on to face left-handed pitching, Vierling was tabbed to start in centerfield against a righty Saturday with Odubel Herrera nursing a sore Achilles.
All Vierling did was reach base three times and sock his first Major League Home Run.
— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) September 25, 2021
Vierling makes solid contact on the regular and in a small sample size of just 56 ABs this year, Vierling is hitting .357 and has an OPS of .903.
“It felt pretty good,” Vierling said of his home run. “It had been a little while since I hit one and some of the guys were giving it to me here and there… The way my swing works, if I catch the ball on the barrel it allows me to hit it hard. Right now, it’s going pretty good.”
And right now, Vierling is going to be earning himself more playing time in crucial games.
Girardi said that Vierling has been playing so well and that his versatility is such that he could find ways to get him in the lineup more regularly over the final week of the season.
FROM THE INFIRMARY
In another blow to the bullpen, reliever Archie Bradley was placed on the injured list Saturday with a strained left oblique muscle. The injury will cost him the remainder of the regular season, but Bradley is hopeful the Phillies can qualify for the postseason and he can rejoin the team in the playoffs.
Bradley had been pitching in a setup role out of the bullpen. The hope was that Connor Brogdon (strained right groin) would be back Saturday, but he is now scheduled for a rehab appearance Sunday in Triple-A, so the earliest he can return is Tuesday.
As a result, the Phillies selected the contract of Triple-A LHP Kyle Dohy to fill Bradley’s spot.
In order to select Dohy, the Phillies needed room on the 40-man roster and were able to create it by moving LHP Matt Moore (lower back strain) to the 60-day IL, ending his season, mercifully, some would say.
Reliever Sam Coonrod was again unavailable Saturday with a “thumb issue” and Herrera did not play. He was removed from Friday’s game with that Achilles flare up. The Phillies hope he is available Sunday.