- Jesse joined ESPN Chicago in September 2009 and covers MLB for ESPN.com.
If Philadelphia Phillies right fielder Bryce Harper is to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2017, he knows his team will have to earn it by getting through a stacked NL East.
“I think this is the best division in baseball; I don’t think that’s even a question,” the 28-year-old star said in a videoconference call on Thursday. “We have five teams … that are really good. I think this is going to be a juggernaut of a division.”
The Phillies finished in third place last season, four games under .500, as Harper played with a bad back, which at times prevented him from throwing a baseball. After an offseason of rehab, the pain is gone and he’s ready to lead the Phillies, though there were times this winter he had doubts about what the club’s roster would look like.
“We were kind of sitting there, figuring out what we wanted to do as an organization,” Harper said.
Then Dave Dombrowski was hired as team president and everything changed. Harper knew the organization meant business.
“When he came in, it was kind of like ‘Whoa, here we go,'” Harper said. “You don’t really bring in Dombrowski unless it’s a win-now kind of move. I think Dombrowski has done a great job. … The way Dombrowski works, he may not be done yet.”
Harper cited the re-signing of catcher J.T. Realmuto and improving a depleted bullpen as difference-making moves by Dombrowski this winter. But the Phillies will have to outduel a revamped New York Mets team as well as the defending division winners, the Atlanta Braves, to assure themselves a postseason bid.
“I hate being home for Halloween,” Harper said. “I can tell you that. … The town needs [the postseason]. The city of Philadelphia deserves it. Everyone knows what the last couple years looks like. We’re looking forward.”
Harper signed a 13-year, $330 million deal with the Phillies before the 2019 season, only to see his former team, the Washington Nationals, win the World Series that fall. The Nationals are also an NL East contender in 2021, while the Miami Marlins were a postseason entrant in 2020, giving all five teams in the group reason for hope this season. Harper’s assessment of the division might be spot on.
“I just want to be able to win,” he said. “We’re going to try everything in our power to do that as an organization. Success as a team instead of success as individuals is what you want.”
Harper had nothing but positive things to say about the Phillies as an organization, despite some failings on the field. They’ve let him be himself, and with Dombrowski in the fold, Harper might finally get his wish to return to the playoffs.
“I love postseason baseball,” Harper said. “I love the mentality of it. It’s always a lot of fun. The fans are craving it so much.”
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