The Philadelphia Phillies are one win away from a return trip to the World Series against a yet-to-be-determined team from the state of Texas, but they have some business to settle first. If they can manage to polish off the pesky Arizona Diamondbacks on either Monday or Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park, they'll not only capture the Warren C. Giles Trophy as National League champions, but one of their own will be crowned the MVP of the NLCS.
Now, if the Phillies do the unthinkable and drop both games at home to lose this series, this is all a moot point, but let's take an optimistic approach here, based on what is likely (but not guaranteed) to happen.
Bryce Harper is your defending NLCS MVP after hitting .400 with a pair of home runs and 5 RBI in last year's 5-game victory over San Diego. Bryce hasn't been a slouch this time around either, but this year it really comes down to a two-horse race between consummate slugger Kyle Schwarber and certified ace Zack Wheeler.
Schwarber has displayed incredible power thus far in the NLCS, belting five home runs (all of the solo variety) to compile a .412/.545/1.353 triple slash line, the stuff of legend. Along the way, he has set the major league record for most career postseason home runs by a lefthanded hitter and has also now hit the most NLCS home runs of any player, ever.
When you include the ALCS he played in as a member of the Boston Red Sox, Schwarber has 12 home runs in 24 career League Championship Series games. His first-pitch bomb off Zac Gallen in Game 1 set the tone for the whole series, and he has been an absolute monster since.
That's all very impressive, but how about Zack Wheeler? After excellent performances in each of the first two rounds, Wheeler has kicked it up a notch by delivering a pair of victories in the NLCS via a 2.08 ERA and 16 punchouts over 13 innings pitched. His work in the NLCS is now done, and it speaks for itself, as it will go down as an all-time clutch performance if the Phillies hold on.
In all likelihood, neither Kyle Schwarber nor Zack Wheeler will end up in the Baseball Hall of Fame. But they are becoming franchise icons before our eyes, and they've brought this team ever closer to a championship that would forever cement their status among Phillies fans.
At the very least. we'll be seeing them up on the Wall of Fame one day, regardless of which of them ends up taking home the honors for their 2023 NLCS heroics. It really is a coin-flip situation, and there's no wrong answer.
You don't have to look too hard for the precedent of choosing elite pitching, as Cole Hamels was the 2008 NLCS MVP for the Phillies after he compiled a 2-0 record by allowing just three runs and striking out 13 hitters across 14 innings to beat the Dodgers. Then again, none of the Phillies' hitters in that series absolutely exploded the way Schwarber has this year, so you never know. Maybe Wheeler has done enough to sway the voters, or maybe he hasn't.
Either player would be a fine choice, and perhaps Aaron Nola could even enter the discussion, although he would need a Game 6 performance either equal to or better than what Wheeler posted in Game 5. And Wheeler would probably still get the nod over Nola based on the pressure cooker situation of his team just having blown the previous game and desperately needing him to go deep to save the bullpen.
My vote personally would go to Wheeler, but of course, Schwarber has an opportunity to add to his resume this series while Wheeler does not. Either way, congratulations in advance to whichever of these players takes home the honors, as we all hope for even more in the World Series to get this team back to the top of the league.