The strides are lengthening, opponents are fading and the finish line is in sight. New Jersey online sports bettors become more optimistic that Phillies slugger Bryce Harper, who has been in sprint mode since the All-Star break, will cross the finish line first in the National League MVP voting.
Harper, deservedly, has become chalk with a capital C.
This is Harper’s award to lose, and he’s answered with an eye-opening arsenal of big plays. Harper has literally willed the Phillies into remaining on the fringe of the National League East and wild-card races.
That’s what MVPs do.
Bryce Harper MVP odds tracker
This figures to be a sweet collection for New Jersey bettors, who joined the Harper movement at different entry points.
Some jumped on Harper when he was in the +1500 neighborhood around the All-Star break. Others got in later and many hit the Harper button inside of +500.
They all look prophetic.
Harper blew by nearest rival Fernando Tatis Jr. of the San Diego Padres last weekend to assume the top spot. Tatis is scuffling. He is fighting with teammate Manny Machado, the Padres are slipping into oblivion. More importantly,Tatis does not resemble an indispensable leader.
He may, in fact, be playing the best baseball of his life.
“Although it’s up to the guys that vote on the award, I think this boils down to who did the most for his team,” Johnny Avello, the director of race and sportsbook operations for DraftKings, told PlayNJ.com. “Maybe a team wasn’t all that great but because of one guy, they play a little better than .500 ball and contend for a playoff spot. A guy like that should be in the mix.
“It’s not always about the team who won it,” he added. “Look at a team and think about where they’d be without that guy.”
For the Phillies, that’s easy. They’d have been making golf plans on Sept. 1.
Harper has an array of clutch hitting, baserunning, and fielding to keep the Phillies afloat. His bat produces runs, his wheels manufacture them and his arm prevents a few.
Listen to the MVP chants at Citizens Bank Park
The “MVP” chants at Citizens Bank Park follows every one of his big moments.
Like on Wednesday.
Harper cut down the tying run at the plate with an on-the-fly bullet throw from right field. The run saved led to a 4-3 Phillies triumph over the Baltimore Orioles.
Like on Tuesday.
The Phillies dangled, possibly on post-season elimination, in the 10th inning against the Orioles.
As they trailed 2-1, it hardly mattered that Harper had recently gone 13-for-25, with 10 walks tossed in to provide an on-base percentage of 66%. Or that his season OPS, on-base and slugging percentage, is the best in baseball.
Nor did it seem to matter that he had 33 homers, 80 RBI, and a .314 batting average.
Nope. What matters is that the Orioles walked Harper, the winning run, intentionally. That left the Phillies with runners at first-and-third with two outs, down a run.
With one strike left to the Phillies, J.T. Realmuto hoisted an opposite-field drive that will be caught half the time. Fortunately for the Phillies, this one wasn’t.
Harper bolted with the crack of the bat. The ball was fielded well in right field and the relay throw was true. But a streaking Harper beat it by a split second, sliding and touching the extreme corner of the plate with his hand.
Game over. Phillies win.
It’s what MVPs do.
The two triumphs Harper helped preserve in two nights , without his lightning bat, reveal the unreal zone he’s in.
Just like he was in 2015, becoming the youngest league MVP at age 23.
Bryce Harper’s short history with the Phills
When the Phillies signed him to a 13-year, $330-million contract three years ago, it was the richest in the history of North American sports (and later eclipsed by Millville Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels). The Phillies knew they were getting a ballplayer’s ballplayer.
They haven’t surrounded him with pennant-winning talent.
So, this year, he’s carrying them.
Bettors remember the 42 homers and the 338 total bases in 2015. This should be the second time he clears 300 total bases, despite missing time with back spasms and being hit in the face with a pitch.
More than anything, fans and bettors see the desire, as Harper puts the offense on his back.
His dash around the bases against the Orioles revealed his hunger to help the team. And it’s a metaphor about how he’s played for several months, at a sprint.
DraftKings has been monitoring Bryce Harper
When asked about the. swift NL MVP line movement over the past couple weeks, Avello said “Harper is a guy we have been watching throughout the year.”
“Sometimes the money comes in and we move the line, but sometimes we are moving the line without the money. You see the odds change often because this is the type of category that we have to watch every day and make adjustments accordingly,” said Avello.
“There is no reason to give a player +400 odds (and get pounded by big gamblers making large bets) when he really belongs at +200.
“It’s a two-man race now,” he added. “There really isn’t enough time for other players to put in a big run.”
New Jersey bettors are right in the middle of this complicated puzzle in both leagues, which have different stories.
Harper is not a dangerous selection for the books. Heavy money in the New York market accompanied Jacob deGrom’s dream pitching season for the New York Mets until he was injured near the All-Star break. So was Ronald Acuna Jr. of the Atlanta Braves, who also took a lot of money, along with Tatis Jr.
Two of the book’s biggest liabilities won’t come in.
The American League is a slightly different story
Garden State gamblers went cha-ching two years ago when Trout captured his third MVP and first in the legalized sports-betting era. They loaded up again in March, making him the pre-season favorite. But Trout was lost for the season in June, clearing the path for the Ohtani Tsunami.
Shohei Ohtani had already taken a wave of money from +6000 all the way down to +1500 before the season began. The May injury to Trout drove Ohtani into an apparent runaway winner.
Ohtani will be a money-loser for the books, but at least the Trout bets help offset it.
New Jersey bettors can wistfully imagine the what-might-have-been: Harper for the Phillies and Millville Mike as MVPs.
For now, they’ll be happy to cash Harper.
AP Photo/Matt Slocum