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Harper continues to heat up

Aug 25, 2014, 10:26 AM EDT

Photo by USA Today Photo by USA Today

In what has been the Nationals’ best regular season stretch since they moved to Washington, just about everyone on their roster has contributed in the month of August. Many are playing their best baseball of 2014, and Bryce Harper is no exception.

The 21-year-old added a double, two RBI and his seventh home run of the season in the Nats’ 14-6 win over the Giants on Sunday. The homer was his fourth in his last 17 games, a span that has seen him bat .308 with nine runs, 11 RBI and an .869 OPS. In those 17 games, the Nationals went 14-3.

Harper is arguably playing his best baseball since April 2013 and it’s perhaps most evident in the type of hits he’s getting. On Sunday, his double was an opposite way laser over the head of Giants’ left fielder Michael Morse.

It came in the sixth inning off Jeremy Affeldt, who is one of the more accomplished lefty relievers in baseball today.

“I actually don’t mind facing lefties,” Harper said. “I’ve actually been saying that for three years now. So being able to be healthy with my knee and being able to be healthy being able to go up there and really take pitches and feel what I want to feel with my backside against the lefties is nice.”

Harper’s home run was against Juan Gutierrez in the eighth. The Giants right-hander sailed a fastball high above the strike zone, but Harper came around on it and blasted it off the foul pole in right field.

Manager Matt Williams has a theory as to why Harper is heating up.

“He’s hit a lot of balls back through the middle in recent days, which tells me that he’s seeing it and staying back. The ball to left especially is important for him. Then he got a ball up and middle of the plate that he was able to hit for a homer. It’s funny how those come when you’re hitting the ball back through the middle,” he said.

“If he hits a ball through the middle consistently, he’ll get pitches to hit where he can pull it and be able to hit a ball over the fence.”

Harper was a force down the stretch in 2012 as a rookie. The Nationals have 32 games left this year, and in that time two seasons ago Harper batted .339 with eight homers, 29 runs and 19 RBI.

Could he be poised for a similar surge? Williams is certainly seeing the signs.

“When he starts hitting the ball back through the middle and the opposite way, then he’s able to stay on the curveball and those balls go in the seats.”

  1. sjm308 - Aug 25, 2014 at 10:45 AM

    Happy for Bryce. What a weapon to add to the mix if he truly can continue to improve.

    Totally off topic and please don’t preach about looking ahead. I need some “insider” help.

    I refuse to let my baseball team dictate how I live. I go to 30 games a year, read this blog religiously and have talked many many times about how excited I will be to attend my first World Series after watching baseball in Washington since 1950 (first game was at 5 years old vs. the Yankees). That being said, I have once again scheduled a trip across the Atlantic, this time to Ireland leaving Sept. 12 and returning Oct. 3. I have my playoff and WS seats and I think it is obvious that I will be missing games in that first playoff series, if not the entire series if we do well.

    My question is , does anyone know for sure if I have this correct?
    I know that the two wild-card teams will play that one game on Sept. 30.
    I understand that it looks pretty good for us to not be a part of that but obviously that is one game I would miss.
    I think I understand that the next round of 5 games starts the very next day.
    If the season ended right now, I believe we would play the winner of that game in two home games on Oct. 1 & 2.
    If we fall to the #2 team I believe those same dates would be at home for us vs. #3.
    If we fall to the #3 team, then I think I would be back for a game.
    If I am wrong, I would appreciate feedback. Obviously, there is nothing I am changing on my trip and while the best case scenario is for us to win that series before game 5, I would much rather be in attendance for the remainder of the playoffs.

    Thanks in advance, especially if I miscalculated.

    • 6ID20 - Aug 25, 2014 at 11:07 AM

      Last time I checked they had not yet announced the specific dates of playoff series. Just the overall timeframe. And I think that after that first wildcard year they were not going to be starting the division series the day after the WC game any more.

    • thenatom - Aug 25, 2014 at 11:12 AM

      I think you are right for #2 and #3, but I think if we get the #1, we would host games 1 and 2 on the 2nd and 3rd to give the WC team an off day after the WC game on the 30th,

    • snerdblurter - Aug 25, 2014 at 11:28 AM

      #knockonphilwood

    • Candide - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:08 PM

      … I will be missing games in that first playoff series, if not the entire series if we do well.

      Why do you hate baseball?

      Whay do you hate the Nats?

      Seriously, Cunegonde and I were out of the country for most of the playoffs in 2012. We missed the division-clinching game; on a cruise ship with 90% Americans, it’s damned frustrating to be on the treadmill in the fitness center and seeing nothing but breathless coverage of some soccer* game between Belgium and Italy. Or cricket, which I’m convinced not one American in a thousand has any earthly idea of what it’s about.

      When our ticket guy announced the lottery for post-season games, our two picks were World Series games one and seven, figuring the only thing cooler than game one in Nats Park would be game seven in Nats park.

      It didn’t work out so well… :-(

      * Soccer = Eurotrash game whose most prominent features are an almost total lack of scoring plays and riots by hooligan fans.

    • Section 222 - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:52 PM

      I think things look better than that for you sjm.

      The only dates MLB has officially announced, and both are tentative, are September 30 — postseason starts, and October 22 — World Series starts.

      Last year, they played the two WC games on successive days — Oct. 1 (PIT v. CIN and Oct. 2 TBR v. CLE). Then each league had an off day (presumably to let the WC winner travel) and both the NL NLDS series started on Oct. 3, while both AL ALDS series started on Oct. 4. Then they played 2-2-1. With the #1 and #2 seeds getting the first two games at home.

      I don’t know if the NL WC and NLDS going first was because the NL won the ASG, or if it alternates, or some other reason (senior circuit always goes first?), but based on last year, and assuming it alternates so that the AL would go first, that would mean the following:

      Sept. 30 — AL WC game.
      Oct. 1. — NL WC game
      Oct. 2 – -AL series Game 1
      Oct. 3 — NL series Game 1, AL series Game 2
      Oct. 4 — NL series Game 2, AL series off day
      Oct. 5 — NL series off day, AL series Game 3
      Oct. 6 — NL series Game 3, AL series Game 4 (if needed)
      Oct. 7 — NL series Game 4 (if needed), AL series off day
      Oct. 8 — NL series off day, AL series Game 5 (if needed)
      Oct. 9 — NL series Game 5 (if needed)
      Oct. 1 — Game 1 between the 2 and 3 seeds.
      Oct. 2 — Game 1 between the 1 seed and the WC winner (they want to give a day off/travel day to the WC team) and Game 2 between the 2 and 3 seeds.
      Oct. 3 — Game 2 between the 1 seed and WC winner.

      If the NL goes first you can switch it. But it seems like the earliest day for Game 1 will be Oct. 2 and it’s more likely it will be Oct. 3. And if we fall to the #3 seed, we’ll be hosting on either Oct. 5 or 6.

      Of course, if there’s a tiebreaker game, all bets are off. That might be what you should be hoping for!

      • Section 222 - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:52 PM

        oops edit fail. eliminate the second Oct. 1, 2, and 3.

  2. Hiram Hover - Aug 25, 2014 at 10:47 AM

    C’mon, Chase–don’t you know Harper is an average player at best, and desperately needs some seasoning in the minors if he’s even going to live up to that?

    • sjm308 - Aug 25, 2014 at 10:57 AM

      HH – absolutely! He is overrated and a cancer to this club!

      I rarely read commentors on other blogs but over at MASN there are some crazy people (peric actually looks sane with this MASN crowd). One of the ones I read (and it will be the last one I read, trust me), had a long discussion about moving either Harper or Ramos to 3rd base. Just crazy but Harper gets little love.

      I am still hoping to see the next Mickey Mantle in the years to come! wonder when he will get to wear that #7?

      Go Nats!

      • Hiram Hover - Aug 25, 2014 at 11:10 AM

        Agree about the other blogs. This is the only one I read regularly, and even here the signal to noise ratio sometimes dips precipitously–most often in discussions of Harp and Stras.

        I can’t help with your question above re the post-season, but I envy your schedule–all in all, not a bad problem to have!

      • Smyrcok - Aug 25, 2014 at 11:47 AM

        Sjm308 that’s disingenuous and I feel the need to say something since I go on masn regularly and the discussion there is just fine. There’s one guy, who appears to be pretty new to baseball himself, who suggested moving Ramos to third. That did not gain any sort of traction there. He probably saw Buster Posey at first and his mind ran wild. If you read again you’ll see not one person agreed with him, but I guess you aren’t satisfied that he wasn’t crucified over it?

        It would say more about you if you tried to make the blog better instead of just running with what one commenter said and acting like it’s the rule. I’m not trying to bash you or anything, but the discussion devolves as fast here as it does anyone else, and I say that as someone who is on MASN, Federal Baseball, Reddit, the Washington Post, and here on Nats Insider. We all like to act like our club house is the place to be, but let’s not be smarmy about it.

        Masn is a smaller community blog and thus one goofy (and I will give you that Ramos at third is the goofiest thing I’ve heard in ages) tends to stick out like a sore thumb. Every site has its trolls and its crazy-idea guys.

        I hope I didn’t offend, thanks for reading. I’m a fan of your comments here.

      • sjm308 - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:21 PM

        Smyrcok

        You are correct, I didn’t go back and read further and one silly comment does not make a blog good or bad.
        I am not sure really why I actually did read the comments there, I usually just like seeing more info on our guys.
        You put me in my place in a very gentle way and I appreciate that.

        Go Nats!!

      • natsguy - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:45 PM

        OMG they think Peric is walking on water. Very weak site.

      • Another_Sam - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:51 PM

        sjm – recall the fantasy managers in this venue had entertained wild schemes involving making half the club into rotating utility players. haha.

      • Smyrcok - Aug 25, 2014 at 2:55 PM

        I appreciate your kind understanding sjm and I hope I didn’t come off as “smarmy” myself :)

  3. snerdblurter - Aug 25, 2014 at 11:04 AM

    Also off topic, but was there any discussion about the Giants’ sign-stealing allegations against Werth et al? I’m out west so I was watching the Giants broadcast, which is usually pretty impartial (at least when they aren’t getting stomped by 8 runs). But Posey was visibly upset when he went out to the mound to Guttierrez in the 7th inning (i think?). They also made a big deal about it during the postgame coverage, saying that had a pretty good idea of why Posey was upset, but didnt want to say it on the air.

    • BurnedOnce - Aug 25, 2014 at 11:16 AM

      Werth is good at the mental
      part of the game. Apparently got in Posey’s head.

      The Giants got pounded because Jason told every one what was coming. At least they can take comfort in the fact that it wasn’t the BP missing pitches. It was the evil gnome.

    • Eric - Aug 25, 2014 at 11:44 AM

      Were allegations actually made? Are you sure Posey wasn’t just annoyed with the pitcher for not getting alternate signs with a man on second?

    • Soul Possession, Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:15 PM

      I assumed the signs Posey was putting down were decoys, because (1) he was only putting down one number; and (2) they didn’t seem to correspond to the pitches being thrown. So maybe the Giants were going to a lot of trouble to call pitches, which can only give them one more thing to think about while getting their butts kicked. Never a good thing, that.

      • snerdblurter - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:31 PM

        Eric – it was very much implied during the postgame coverage and again discussed on the local sports radio show this morning. They also reshowed the clip of Posey coming out to the mound to Guttierrez where any novice lipreader could tell he was screaming “This is bullsh*t!”… Posey rarely shows emotion on the field and probably wouldnt have reacted that way if he was just frustrated with his pitcher or about losing in general, so they were making a big deal of it.

        Thanks for the insight, Soul. It did seem like they were having to make a lot of adjustments. Itd be pretty great if we werent getting signs and were just completely in their heads. Might bode well if we meet up in the postseason…

  4. kirbs3256 - Aug 25, 2014 at 11:53 AM

    Way, way of topic, but I just looked at the match-ups and we are going to miss King Felix in Seattle!

    • NatsLady - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:27 PM

      But, but, THEY are going to miss Doug Fister, aren’t they? I see we will get Chris Young. OUR Chris Young…

    • Section 222 - Aug 25, 2014 at 2:55 PM

      No need to apologize for posting that info. Always on topic!

  5. Theophilus T.S. - Aug 25, 2014 at 11:55 AM

    I would think a 5 1/2 hour flight after being hammered by eight runs (or giving up 12 runs over six innings, depending on how you choose to look at it), would unhinge almost any team.

  6. NatsLady - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:24 PM

    I don’t see the issue with stealing signs unless you have someone in the stands doing it. If a player or a coach on the field steal signs, that’s on the team getting robbed. Smarten up your signs, or why bother having them at all.

    • snerdblurter - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:34 PM

      Agreed that having someone in the stands do it crosses the line. Didnt the Phillies get caught doing this a few years back?

      I’m on the fence about a player doing it. I agree that its on the team whose signs are being stolen, but I’d be pretty PO’ed if someone was doing it against the Nats. Just feels a little dirty.

      • Section 222 - Aug 25, 2014 at 1:02 PM

        I’d be PO’d too — at the Nats for letting it happen.

      • Eric - Aug 25, 2014 at 1:13 PM

        I wouldn’t feel it was the least bit dirty if someone on second picked up on our signs and relayed them to the batter. I imagine the latter isn’t easy to do surreptitiously. Probably easier to just *act* like you’re relaying something and see if either/both opposing battery mates get flustered.

        I agree guys with binocs around the stadium (or anything in the spirit of such an effort) is a different story.

    • Soul Possession, Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:42 PM

      It’s a holdover from the old days, when you could physically intimidate the other team to avoid doing things that help them and hurt you, like throwing at people’s heads and knocking the middle infielders or catchers into the middle of next week with your spikes, and no one considered it dirty. Now that some of that pathology if frowned on in polite society, it’s petrified into “conventions” and “unwritten rules” rather than plain old bullying. It’s not entirely a bluff–people do still get thrown at–but it’s no longer like the Prestigious Old School Way of Being An Alpha-Hotel.

      • NatsLady - Aug 25, 2014 at 1:41 PM

        Those things are dangerous and could impact a player’s career. I don’t see the harm in stealing signs, and if you have signs, then stealing them should be part of the game, just like the “deke” to fool a base runner.

      • Soul Possession, Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 25, 2014 at 3:01 PM

        Not that anybody cares what I think, but FWIW, if you don’t want to watch your home runs, fine. If you don’t want someone watching their home runs off you, don’t hang sliders.

        You don’t want them stealing signs? #GetBetterSigns

    • Candide - Aug 25, 2014 at 2:10 PM

      Yankees pitcher Bob Turley was great at stealing signs from the dugout, and several hitters, Mantle, notably, used that skill. Turley would whistle for a fastball, then wouldn’t whistle again until the pitch selection changed.

      Jim Bunning figured out what Turley was doing and after the Yanks had knocked him around in one of his starts,told Turley the next whistle would result in retaliation. Turley whistled on Bunning’s next pitch – to Mantle – and Mantle let the fastball go by. The next pitch knocked Mantle down.

      When Berra came up next, he called out to Bunning, “Jim, he’s whistling, but I ain’t listening!”

      From The Baseball Codes

      • neumanco1 - Aug 25, 2014 at 5:20 PM

        How great is that!

  7. Soul Possession, Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:26 PM

    [Harper's sixth-inning] double was an opposite way laser over the head of Giants’ left fielder Michael Morse.

    Funny, I remember it as a high fly ball that Morse played into a double, to circus music accompaniment.

    This is how Andrew Baggerly of CSNBayArea described it:

    Affeldt’s outing was disaster in the box score but came across as more cruel and unusual in real time. It started when Bryce Harper lofted a catchable double that Morse couldn’t drift back in time to glove.

    • David Proctor - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:59 PM

      It was both, I guess. It was hit well and there’s no guarantee a competent LF gets it, but Morse didn’t even give himself a chance.

      • Section 222 - Aug 25, 2014 at 1:04 PM

        No guarantee? Ok, in the same way that there’s no guarantee that a grounder to short gets handled cleanly by the short stop. It was a well hit ball, but there’s little doubt that it should have been caught.

      • Soul Possession, Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 25, 2014 at 1:12 PM

        I’m pretty confident the average MLB outfielder, or even Ryan Zimmerman, catches that. Not certain about Scott Hairston, but Tyler Moore probably gets a glove on it, at least. Totally shouldabeen. Then the ground-ball-with-eyes, the wild pitch, the chopper off the plate … they didn’t hit a ball really square until Werth’s.

    • Candide - Aug 25, 2014 at 2:16 PM

      That was Cunegonde’s baseball lesson for the day. “Morse went one way, then had to turn around again. If he’d gotten a good read immediately, he would have had it.”

      And then the jumbotron kindly replayed the whole thing for us, and Cunegonde picked it up immediately.

      “That’s the difference between Morse and a good outfielder. You’ll almost never see Denard do that.”

      Also, from NatsLady’s blog: “your light-hitting backup catcher, Jose Lobaton, goes 3 for 4 and scores a run from first base. They call it a double, but everyone else calls it “Mike Morse fielding.”

      Nats Lady wins the internet today.

  8. Soul Possession, Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:33 PM

    One last bit about Pence’s home run, again from Baggerly. This is funny.

    The catcher was reaching straight up, with no bend in his elbow. It might have gone to the screen. Instead, it rocketed over the center field fence.

    Regular humans don’t get the barrel to pitches that high. Do they?

    “Well, yeah, they do if you practice it,” Pence said.

    Wait. Pence practices swinging at pitches nearly over his head?

    “Yeah, I do,” he said. “I set the tee really high – as high as it will go. I figure if I’m going to swing at that pitch, I’d better learn how to hit it. It’s something I noticed when I was with the Astros.”

    • Soul Possession, Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:35 PM

      Paging Mr. Espinosa; Mr. Danny Espinosa, you have a call on Line Five.

      I figure if I’m going to swing at that pitch, I’d better learn how to hit it.

      • Hiram Hover - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:56 PM

        I think that call went straight to voice mail, and got an “inbox full” reply.

      • ArVAFan - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:58 PM

        +1

      • Candide - Aug 25, 2014 at 2:17 PM

        :-)

  9. rayvil01 - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:34 PM

    I don’t think it’s a complete coincidence that Bryce started warming up when Cabrera started batting in the 8 hole behind him. That 8 hole bat is key for this team. I’m starting to view RZ and Cabrera as interchangeable. As long as one of them is in the lineup the 8 hole will be a good bat. Without a Big Bopper in the middle of the lineup they need the bottom of the linep to be productve.

    • Hiram Hover - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:55 PM

      You mean the 7 hole? That’s where Cabrera has most often batted for the Nats, behind Bryce @ #6.

      That could be part of it, but I tend to think more of it is getting over his injuries and getting his swing back. Bryce was still struggling the first 7-10 days of August, even with Cabrera behind him most of the time.

      • rayvil01 - Aug 25, 2014 at 1:00 PM

        Seven yesterday ahead of Lobaton. But I think he’s been behind Ramos.
        I could be wrong on that.

      • Hiram Hover - Aug 25, 2014 at 1:03 PM

        For the Nats, he’s batted:

        2d – 8 times
        7th – 9 times
        8th – 3 times

        http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/gl.cgi?id=cabreas01&t=b&year=2014

      • Section 222 - Aug 25, 2014 at 1:06 PM

        Yes, you’re wrong about that. But the point you made is still an excellent one. Having a strong 1-8 is key for this team.

      • Soul Possession, Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 25, 2014 at 1:15 PM

        “Having more guys who hit good is good.” That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

  10. Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:44 PM

    Good read Chase!

  11. Drew - Aug 25, 2014 at 3:22 PM

    The thing about Harper is he’s younger than all but 7 guys on the roster.

    The roster at Hagerstown, that is.

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