Despite a rollercoaster of a regular season, the Philadelphia Phillies are headed to the National League Championship, a best-of-seven series starting in San Diego. It took 162 games for the Phils to get into a groove, but it seems that they have finally figured out how to put all of the pieces of their complex, messy puzzle together.
As Phillies fans patiently await the start of game one, it allows us to take a look at who made the biggest difference—for better or worse—in the National League Division Series between the Phillies and Braves.
Most Valuable Player: Bryce Harper
This one is pretty clear-cut. If the MLB awarded an official MVP for each division series, it comes without a doubt that Harper would earn that award, too. Harper recorded eight hits in 16 at-bats and had two home runs, both of which came at Citizens Bank Park. Since the beginning of the playoffs, Harper has hit in the four-hole, where he had success in his first few games off the injured list. Now, back in that spot, Harper has mashed clutch, extra-base hits all over the field as glimpses of his MVP-caliber play return.
The 2021 MVP celebrated his thirtieth birthday on Sunday, and the Phillies’ trip to San Diego might be the best gift he could have asked for.
Least Valuable Player: Max Fried
This one was definitely not as straightforward as Harper’s MVP. Ronald Acuna, Jr. might not have lived up to his expectations, yet he still hit .333 and had an OPS well over .800, despite his defensive miscues. It’s hard to give it to Spencer Strider, who clearly wasn’t equipped to throw more than two innings. Michael Harris II had a weak .071 average in the four games, but were the Braves really relying on their rookie centerfielder who was recalled mid-season from double-A? One could also throw Charlie Morton in the mix, who did not have the same postseason success that we’ve seen in the past.
Max Fried, though, might have been the worst of the bunch. He failed to set the tone for the Braves in game one, going just 3.1 innings and allowing six runs (four earned) over eight hits. For the Braves, game one was crucial to win with their ace on the mound. Fried, though, was outdueled by the Phillies’ three-man in the rotation and put the Braves in a hole with the top of the Phillies’ rotation lined up for the next two games of the set.
While expectations don’t define value, the Braves put a lot of trust into their Cy-Young candidate.
Not-So-Honorable Mentions: Charlie Morton, Michael Harris II
Rookie of the Series: Bryson Stott
Stott was the only rookie who made an impact for the Phillies in the division series. Nonetheless, his impact still played a crucial role in the Phillies’ series victory. Stott’s double in game two was the first RBI in Philadelphia, and he started a rally that ended with Bryce Harper’s two-run home run, putting game three of the series out of reach for Atlanta. His .222 average in the series wasn’t overwhelming, but he made a spectacular play at shortstop in the Phillies’ series-clinching win on Saturday.
Cy Young: Aaron Nola
I’m a believer that you cannot short someone of an award because they were on the losing team, so I have to give Kyle Wright some credit for his excellent performance in game two. Aaron Nola, though, gets my NLDS Cy Young award. His six dominant innings speak for themselves, but Nola’s ability to go deep into games helped save the Phillies’ bullpen for Noah Syndergaard’s start the following day.
As usual, Nola used his wicked two-seam fastball to deal with the Braves’ best left-handed hitters, and his curveball was an effective weapon in any situation.
Honorable Mention: Kyle Wright
Comeback Player of the Series: Nick Castellanos
Although I mentioned that expectations don’t correlate with performance and skill level, you cannot ignore those factors for the Comeback Player award, especially when that’s all it’s about. In this series, Nick Castellanos finally showed Phillies fans what he’s about—big hits, clutch plays, and winning important games.
Castellanos hit .313 in 16 at-bats and notched five RBI in the four-game series. This followed an underwhelming first season of his career in Philly, where he had a .693 OPS and just 13 home runs in 136 games.
Honorable Mention: Noah Syndergaard