The whole overrated/underrated debate is tired. So tired. I’m sick of it and have been for a while. It really doesn’t mean anything, because there’s rarely an agreement on what the base rating is to begin with. Instead, it’s just a way for people to yell at each other on TV to fill time and get people worked up.
That said, I can’t help to think that Bryce Harper is actually underrated.
Yes, a guy who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16 (so long ago that it was actually a thing to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated) as his sport’s LeBron James is underrated. So too is the wunderkind who was the no-doubt first pick in the draft when he could’ve been finishing up his junior year of high school and made his big-league debut at 19, in what could’ve been the final months of his second semester of his freshman year of college is underrated.
While LeBron James, who was on the SI cover at 17, as well, has lived up to the lofty expectations as arguably the greatest player of all time, Harper’s not in the conversation. In a way, he’s been overshadowed by a contemporary who is in that conversation in Mike Trout. Harper is merely a no-doubt Hall of Famer after his career, not in the conversation with Mays, Aaron, Bonds and Ruth.
Baseball, of course, is different thank basketball or football where rings are the things. Ted Williams didn’t have a ring, nor did Ken Griffey Jr. or Trout. They’re still in the pantheon of greats of the game.
That said, a ring could move Harper up in those talks. Harper’s greatness won’t be determined by what happens in the next two weeks, the guy is great regardless of that. But it could actually shine a light on just how great he has been in his career. It wasn’t fair when the Nationals won the World Series that it was framed that they did it because Harper wasn’t there — good players are important. And Harper is more than that, he’s a great player.
While it seems silly to say that Harper is underrated, if the rating is anything other than an all-time great in the game, it’s not silly in the least. One more win and Harper will once again be on the game’s largest stage and with a chance to prove it.
Series: Phillies lead 3-2
Start time: 5:07 p.m. ET on TBS
Pitching matchup: Merrill Kelly vs. Aaron Nola
Game 5 pitching matchup
Diamondbacks: RHP Merrill Kelly
2023 stats: 12-8, 3.29 ERA, 177.2 innings, 187 strikeouts, 1.193 WHIP
Last weekend Merrill Kelly celebrated his 35th birthday. Casual baseball fans may not even know who he is, but few aside from hard-core fans realize that he’s that old. Kelly’s been a good pitcher for the Diamondbacks since 2019, but he made his debut nearly a dozen years after he was drafted for the first or three times. It would seem to just make sense that a player that went to high school in Arizona, junior college in Arizona and college in Arizona would play his entire big-league career with Arizona. But it’s hardly been that easy.
Kelly was drafted by the Rays in 2010 and reached Triple-A with the team before going to Korea, where he played four seasons. Kelly was 48-32 with a 3.86 ERA with the SKY Wyverns before returning to the United States in 2019. With the Diamondbacks, he’s 48-43 with a 3.80 ERA in the regular season.
After dominating the Dodgers in his first postseason start, the Phillies beat him in Game 2. Kelly allowed just three hits in his 5.2 innings against the Phillies, but all three left the yard — two by Kyle Schwarber and one by Trea Turner. Schwarber’s first homer was the first home run Kelly had allowed on his changeup all year.
Kelly faced the Phillies once in the regular season and had similar results, giving up three runs on three hits (and a homer) in a 4-3 loss in June. That featured a homer by J.T. Realmuto. Like pretty much any other pitcher against the Phillies, keeping them in the ballpark will be the most important thing for Kelly.
Phillies: RHP Aaron Nola
2023 stats: 12-9, 3.72 ERA, 193.2 innings, 202 strikeouts, 1.151 WHIP
There’s a chance that this is Nola’s last start as a Phillie. The 30-year-old is a free agent after the World Series, but a win would mean he’d have at least one more start — in the World Series.
Nola dominated the Diamondbacks in Game 3, allowing just four baserunners in six innings on three hits and an error. He struck out seven and didn’t walk anyone. Only Ketel Marte managed an extra-base hit against him and Marte’s the only Diamondbacks hitter to have a homer off of Nola in his career.
Game 5 X-factor
OK, I’m cheating here because our man Jayson Stark wrote an entire “Weird and Wild” column on Schwarber. So, yeah, I’m cheating, but at least I’m doing it off the smartest kid in class.
I mean, Schwarber has a 1.898 OPS this series, the best OPS in a single LCS (minimum 15 plate appearances). He has eight hits in his 17 at-bats this series and just one single — with five homers and a double.
But it’s not just this year. The 30-year-old has played in 63 postseason games and has 20 homers with a .931 OPS. In 18 NLCS games (four series) in his career, he has a 1.318 OPS with 11 home runs. He also has more walks (15) than strikeouts (14) in the NLCS throughout his career. He has five walks and four strikeouts this series.
“That sounded like a football collision.” — J.T. Realmuto on Harper’s collision with Diamondbacks catcher Gabriel Moreno in Game 5.
It seems like everything the Phillies do is loud — from their fans to their homers — it wouldn’t be Philadelphia if it was subdued or rational. And Friday night, Harper made a steal of home loud, plowing through the Arizona catcher to give Philly a 2-0 lead.
(Top photo: Norm Hall / Getty Images)