NL MVP 2021: As Phillies surge, Bryce Harper emerges

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As Phillies surge, Harper emerges as an MVP candidate originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Phillies are hotter than a hundred habaneros and so is Bryce Harper.

Since June 30, he is hitting .353 with a 1.173 OPS, nine homers and 24 RBIs in 34 games.

The Phillies have come out of the All-Star break with a 15-9 record and taken control of the National League East. They are riding an eight-game winning streak, their longest in a decade, and that has helped them turn a 4½-game deficit in the division into a two-game lead in just over a week.

Stuff happens quickly when you get hot in a tightly packed division. The Phils are playing their best all-around ball of the season as they look for their first winning season and playoff berth since 2011.

In his third season with the club, Harper is hitting his way into the NL MVP race and with 50 games to go has plenty of time to win the thing, as he did in 2015 with Washington.

Since the All-Star break, Harper leads the majors in OPS at 1.256.

Here are some of Harper's rankings among NL hitters since the All-Star break:

Batting average: 5th at .370

On-base percentage: 1st at .516

Slugging: 2nd at .740

Runs: Tied for 4th with 18

Walks: Tied for 2nd with 21

Extra base hits: 2nd with 17

Times on base: 1st with 49

Stolen bases: 1st with 5

For the season, Harper ranks 7th in the league with a .302 batting average and 3rd with a .983 OPS. Only Fernando Tatis Jr. and Ronald Acuña Jr. are better in that category and both are out with injuries. Tatis is down with a shoulder injury and there's no timetable for his recovery. Acuña is out for the season with an ACL injury.

Harper is tied for 17th in the league with 20 homers.

Runs batted in is the area where Harper lags behind some other MVP candidates. He has just 45, which is 34 less than league leader Jesus Aguilar and 32 less than second-ranked Manny Machado.

There's an explanation for Harper's RBI shortage. He has 147 plate appearances with men on base. That ranks 140th in the majors and 56th in the NL.

Since the All-Star break, however, the Phillies' offense is tops in the NL in walks (93) and third in times on base (297). That should help get Harper some more RBI opportunities. If he cashes in, he'll continue to make a run at his second NL MVP award -- and the Phillies, with the pitching they've been getting from Cy Young candidate Zack Wheeler and others, could continue to control the division. They are in the driver's seat.

The Phils will put their eight-game winning streak on the line Tuesday night when they host the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first game of what will be a challenging three-game series. The Phillies thought they were done with Max Scherzer when he was traded out of Washington, but they are not. He will start the opener against Aaron Nola.

Scherzer has already beaten the Phillies three times this season, holding them to three runs in 18⅔ innings. He is 14-4 with a 2.55 ERA in 24 career starts against the Phils.

Harper has had some success against Scherzer with two doubles and a homer in 10 career at-bats.

Odubel Herrera is hitting .308 (16 for 52) with four doubles, a triple and two homers lifetime against Scherzer. He was a late scratch from Sunday's game against the Mets due to Achilles tightness.

Rhys Hoskins has not fared well against Scherzer. He is 1 for 23 with 12 strikeouts. Hoskins has missed the last three games with a nagging groin injury. Given his struggles against Scherzer, it would not be surprising if he were held out of Tuesday's starting lineup.

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