What should the Nats do with Bryce Harper? Coming into his walk year, he is posting some unusual numbers: .214/.365/.468. The OBP and SLG are good, if not a bit low for him, but that BA … wow. Is this the player teams are lining up to throw 10 years and $400m at? With the emergence of The Truth (aka La Verdad) Juan Soto, the off-season discussion is rather complicated. Before we throw Bryce out with the bathwater, how bad has he been, really? Is it just that he’s 2016 Ryan Zimmerman, waiting to blow up next year?
The MLB All-Star Game and its corresponding festivities have hit the nation’s capital, a fitting sign that DC is as prominent as it has ever been in the baseball landscape. The Washington Nationals are now one of the most stable and successful franchises in the Major Leagues, backed by a city that has only shown increased support since the club started trending upwards in 2011.
So, due to the fact that the current Nationals team is hiccupping their way to the midseason break and I’m in the All-Star spirit, I decided to put together an all-time Nationals All-Star team, showcasing the franchise’s best players and best individual seasons. My totally random criteria is below.
Figuring out what has gone wrong with the 2018 Nationals is a multi-pronged study in disappointment. Few of the stars are starring, injuries have riddled the lineup and rotation and a certain swagger seems to be missing. Whether or not that’s because a certain bearded guy and a certain well-seasoned manager are both not around anymore, I’m not sure. But I’ve talked to numerous other Nats fans over the last few weeks and each one has mentioned how the boys don’t really seem to be enjoying themselves. Now, obviously, it’s a lot easier to have fun when you’re winning than when you’re losing, but there’s a malaise settling over this team that we never saw from the Dusty Baker-led group of 2017. Hopefully, that changes after Thursday night’s thrilling comeback victory over the Marlins.
But let’s not fool ourselves. The Nats are still just 45-44 and in a tight spot in the playoff race. The margin for error is gone already, a situation the team never even came close to facing last season. I decided to look back at the 2017 squad to try and figure out what the hell has happened this year.
A players’ meeting the night before. Very quickly getting out to a daunting nine-run deficit. It seemed like the same old story, and the Nationals were going to lose badly yet again, and to a bad team, no less. The same old Nats, and it looked like things weren’t going to get better.
On Monday, in a meaningless display of athleticism that was witnessed by a select few, Bryce Harper took ground balls at first base, a position he does not, and has never, played.
Harper, in the short clip MASN showed before Monday’s game, looked fine playing the position one of my high school coaches once claimed could be manned by a trained monkey, but the fact that he’s taking ground balls there at all is exciting.
For the majority of the 2018 season, the starting pitching has been the rock. The one thing the Nationals could rely upon when all else faltered (which it has, many a time). However, that rock hasn’t been so steady as of late.
The National League is no joke this year.
One would be forgiven if in making preseason predictions, you didn’t give more than a minute’s thought to the eventual division winners. The East, Central and West had the same three victors the last two seasons: the Nats (winners of four of the last six NL East titles), the Cubs (who even won 97 games as a wild card in 2015) and the Dodgers (winners of the last five NL West titles). All three rosters looked formidable enough to take their respective divisions again this year, even as other NL teams like the Phillies, Brewers and Giants made drastic moves to improve.
I’ve been one to advocate and campaign Nationals players for individual awards in the past. Tanner Roark for Gold Glove, Gio Gonzalez for a Cy Young nomination, Michael Taylor for Gold Glove, Ryan Zimmerman for Comeback Player of the Year. This year, I have a new campaign: Max Scherzer for Silver Slugger.
Something happened on Tuesday night against the Orioles that really made me think about Bryce Harper, his season thus far, and where his future will take him.
On Monday, the Nationals traded for Royals closer Kelvin Herrera. This was unusual.
The Royals are bad, yes, and Herrera was expected to be available this year, true. What’s unusual is when this move happened – June 18 – a full six weeks before the non-waiver trade deadline. Moves like this don’t typically happen until July.
Except, you can excuse the Nats for getting things going.