If we chalk up the Red Sox, Angels and Giants as speculation based on carrying high payrolls and generally playing in the deep end of the free-agent waters, the top five seem like they could comprise the Harper bidding war.
Washington, the only franchise Harper has ever played for, makes sense. But Harper’s end-of-year remarks and demeanor suggested a player knowing he’s destined to move on.
As for the four favorites: Chicago could spend big on Kris Bryant’s lifelong friend after a disappointing postseason exit. The Dodgers could let Kershaw (and/or Machado) walk and put Harper in an already stacked lineup. The Yankees could create space (left field) to finish their uber team off. The Phillies could look to Harper as the key cog in a rebuild that needs an offensive star to build around.
Harper, 25, posted a .249/.393/.496 slash line with 34 home runs and 100 RBI in 2018. That includes a blistering second half (.300/.434/.538) after a slow start to the season.
Coming off a 2 for 3 game in Atlanta in which he hit a two-run home run and took two walks, Bryce Harper entered play on Monday night with 97 runs scored, 97 RBIs, and 118 walks over 639 plate appearances in 2018.
Harper had also hit 28 doubles and 34 home runs on the season, with a .249/.391/.505 line overall, up from .214/.365/.468 at the All-Star Break.
His .311/.440/.572 second-half erased some of the doubts his less-than-stellar first-half had raised, and set Harper up nicely heading into free agency this winter (assuming he and theWashington Nationalsdon’t agree on extension before then).
Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images
“Having 100 runs scored, 100 RBIs, that’s significant for a player today,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez told reporters earlier this month, “and the batting average, that seems to be — not of significance — it’s just more about your OPS — and he’s had an unbelievable second-half, he really has, he’s turned things around.
“He’s going to approach 100 RBIs hopefully soon and 100 runs, so he’s done great.”
Harper told reporters in Atlanta after Sunday’s win, which gave the Nats 2 of 3 from the Braves in the final series of the season with the NL East leaders, that he wasn’t too concerned with his own numbers in what’s been a frustrating season for Washington.
“I think it’s a bummer we’re not winning ballgames,” Harper said. “That was the biggest thing on my mind. I’m not really worried about my numbers or anything like that, because I am who I am, so I know that sounds bad, but I am, so any given night I’m able to go out there and do some things for this team that are special and I was able to do that today.”
His teammates have noticed his approach as well, with Anthony Rendon talking on Sunday about the way Harper’s carried himself and worked this season.
“He’s been playing for a while, so he understands the longevity of the season,” Rendon said, as quoted by MLB.com’s Jamal Collier. “He could have easily pressed really hard early in the year, but he knew he had a lot more at-bats and a lot more games to play. He just continued to work, and it finally clicked for him.”
“He’s just going out there and having fun and playing the game,” Martinez added.
“He’s been awesome. He really has. His demeanor, the way he is in the clubhouse, with the young players. He’s been really, really good. So I appreciate him a lot, I really do.”
“Hopefully he gets close to his 40 and 100,” the first-year skipper said. “But what I like about him is he’s going out there and playing the game. He really is.”
Harper had a rough night on Monday in Miami, going 0 for 4 with three strikeouts and one hard-hit out to second late, leaving him at .247/.389/.501, with 28 doubles, 34 home runs, 97 runs, 97 RBIs, 118 walks and 160 Ks.
After one last game on the current road trip, Harper and the Nationals return home for the final homestand of the 2018 campaign. Will it be his last homestand in Washington?
Laz Diaz put on one of the better (and by “better,” we mean more cringeworthy) #umpshows in baseball this season. It included a threat to eject Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper and, according to Harper, remarks toward the outfielder that crossed a line.
Diaz, who debuted as an MLB umpire in 1995, took time midgame to loudly tell Nats manager Dave Martinez to “talk to” Harper. MASN’s field microphones caught Diaz’s side. Excerpts:
“He needs to cut it out. You need to talk to him. You need to talk to him. . . . You take him or I will, I guarantee you that. . . . That’s OK, I’ll take care of it. . . . I’ll take care of it.”
Was that part of the “taking care” promise? Baiting Harper into an ejection and perhaps a suspension with an egregiously bad call?
Harper told reporters postgame that Diaz took their argument after that call too far.
Bryce indicated that Laz Diaz said something inappropriate during their exchange in Harper’s 7th inning at-bat. Didn’t want to say what Diaz said, but told reporters multiple times to ask Braves catcher Tyler Flowers. “He heard it,” Bryce said.
Martinez told reporters that Diaz was “saying things” to Harper, although he did not provide specifics.
“I say this all the time, and I’m not going to make comments on balls and strikes there, but umpires are supposed to be non-confrontational, they’re supposed to uphold the peace on the baseball field. You know, for me, I think MLB needs to take a look at that, that’s all I’m going to say,” Martinez said, per Federal Baseball.
No responses from Flowers or Diaz had been reported as of late Friday.
Ultimately, Harper remained in the game, which the Nationals lost to the Braves.
The source of Kaminski’s motivation this season has been Harper’s impending free agency. The six-time All-Star will enter the open market following his age 25 season, and will almost certainly command record money. One of the questions going into the winter is whether the Nationals will meet the price. If so, then the question becomes will Harper choose to stay.
That’s the same question Kaminski was asking through his music, and you better believe his trolling caught everyone’s attention.
“Should I Stay or Should I Go?” greets Bryce Harper as he steps to the plate here at SunTrust Park.
Kaminski was even more aggressive with his trolling of Harper earlier this season. When the Nationals visited Atlanta in early April, he played songs associated with teams expected to pursue Harper this winter.
#Braves vs #Nationals – “Imperial March”, “Go Cubs Go”, “New York, New York” for Bryce Harper
No mention of the Philadelphia Phillies in there. Nonetheless, that’s pretty strong.
Some of Kaminski’s other choices during Friday’s game also deserve acknowledgement.
. @bravesorganist is on his game tonight. He played De-vo’s “Whip It” when Di-fo stepped to the plate for the #Nats. Earlier tonight, Matthew played “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” for Bryce Harper’s first plate appearance, as noted by @MarkZuckerman.
The second half of the season keeps getting better for Bryce Harper, the Nationals slugging outfielder.
The soon-to-be free agent was named National League Player of the Week Monday, after he was 7-for-16 with two doubles, two homers, seven RBI, 12 walks with six runs in six games last week.
Harper reached base in seven of eight trips to the plate in a doubleheader sweep Saturday against the Chicago Cubs at Nationals Park. His homer in the seventh inning of the nightcap gave Washington the lead on a rainy night in D.C. The game on Sunday was rained out and will be made up Thursday at 4:05 p.m. against the Cubs in Washington.
The Las Vegas native was hitting .251 with an OPS of .599 going into Monday’s game in Philadelphia. He had 28 doubles, 32 homers and 91 RBI. Harper was the NL MVP in 2015, the last time the Nationals did not make the playoffs.
It is the ninth time this year a Nationals player was named the player of the week. Other position players to get the honor have been first basemen Ryan Zimmerman and Mark Reynolds and outfielders Juan Soto and Adam Eaton.
Pitcher Max Scherzer has won the award three times this year. It was the first honor of the year for Harper, while left fielder Soto has been named twice.
But even with individual success, the Nationals are 71-72 and eight games back of first-place Atlanta in the National League East going into the series in Philadelphia (74-68) against the second-place Phillies.
The Phillies have lost 17 of their last 26 games while the Nationals are just 16-18 since Aug. 1.
Erick Fedde (1-3, 6.00) is slated to pitch Monday for the Nationals against Jake Arrieta (10-9, 3.61) of the Phillies. Tanner Roark (8-15, 4.23) is scheduled to start Tuesday for Washington, with fellow right-hander Stephen Strasburg (7-7, 4.04) on tap for his 19th start of the year Wednesday against the Phillies.
Scherzer is on track to start Thursday against the Cubs.
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As midnight neared, the sparse crowd sitting in their soaked seats, in their soggy ponchos, watching a game that was supposed to end hours ago, Bryce Harper slowed going down the first base line and pointed into the Washington Nationals’ rain-slicked dugout.
Harper was looking at a crowd of celebrating teammates, who had all just watched him smack a 413-foot, go-ahead home run in the seventh inning of the Nationals’ second game of the day. That held as the game-winning hit in the Nationals’ 6-5 win Saturday night, which finished off a doubleheader sweep of the Chicago Cubs, which meant that hours and hours of rain-soaked baseball somehow tilted in their favor.
In the first game of the doubleheader, Scherzer gave up three runs and struck out 11 to secure his National League-leading 17th win and first complete game since April 9. The Nationals took that game, 10-3, and Scherzer, working on his third straight NL Cy Young award, struck out 10 or more hitters for the 16th time this season.
The second game started at 9 p.m. and ended at 1:42 a.m., after an 89-minute rain delay, after Anthony Rendon paced the Nationals with a solo home run and RBI double, after Harper won it with his 32nd homer of the season, and after closer Sean Doolittle returned from a foot injury, rode in on the team’s new bullpen cart, and secured the final two outs of the eighth to help the bullpen close out the win with no more than 100 fans left in the ballpark.
So at the center of it all was the Nationals’ two stars, Scherzer on the mound and Harper at the plate, pausing the team’s downward slide to twice beat the first-place Cubs and make a whole lot of waiting worth something.
“They were big,” Nationals Manager Dave Martinez said of Scherzer’s and Harper’s contributions to bookend the day. “I’m proud of the boys, all of them, they played through some awful weather and they battled for two games and then through the wee hours of the morning. Really proud of all of them.”
It did stop pouring for a stretch Saturday, long enough for nine consecutive innings to be played at Nationals Park, long enough for Scherzer to mow through the Chicago Cubs as if he were trying to leave before the second storm began.
Friday’s rain drenched Nationals Park and led to more than four hours of delays, 23 minutes of baseball that will never count and, after much confusion and debate, a late-night postponement that set up Saturday’s doubleheader. But the rain kept coming, and coming, and then the doubleheader was delayed, too. And so was Scherzer’s 30th start of the season. And so was the Nationals’ second look at an outfield of Juan Soto, Victor Robles and Bryce Harper, who took the field together at 5:13 p.m., more than two hours behind schedule.
This outfield trio has been anticipated since Robles was called up earlier this week, even if Harper’s impending free agency could soon make it an unrealized dream. All together, Harper, Soto and Robles have been on earth for 65 years. Harper is 25 years old and will be the Nationals’ centerpiece for at least another 20 games. Soto is 19 and could very well win the National League’s rookie of the year award. Robles is 21 and, after an early-season elbow injury, once again announced himself as the Nationals’ most intriguing prospect.
With Soto and Robles, the Nationals have two good reasons to believe that a Harper departure wouldn’t suck all the star power out of their outfield. But with Soto, Robles and Harper in the same lineup, however long that lasts, the Nationals have an umbrella of power and patience and swagger and speed.
Robles made his first two starts of 2018 on Saturday and the outfield was productive from the start. Harper walked in the first inning and, two batters later, Soto chopped a two-run single under the glove of Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Harper then walked four more times on Saturday before he put the Nationals ahead with that two-run seventh-inning home run. Robles, still looking to break through with his bat, was 0 for 6 with a walk across the two games.
“I kind of was joking — I saw Soto and Robles out there and I called them two young spike bucks, and I called Harper an elk,” Martinez said after the first game. “That’s what it was kind of like watching those three guys out there. It was a lot of fun.”
The Nationals brought in another run in the first inning of the first game, and that was almost enough for Scherzer. The righty retired 15 straight batters between the first and the sixth. He threw a five-pitch second, a 10-pitch fourth and struck out two in the fifth before the Nationals added five runs an inning later. He is dominating on the mound once again, from spring to summer and well into Saturday, when he handcuffed the Cubs beneath a bed of gray clouds before working into a ninth-inning jam.
Two runs scored as Scherzer’s pitch count climbed to 105. Martinez went out to talk to him, and Scherzer remained in the game to face Kris Bryant with runners on first and second. Fans chanted “Let’s go Max!” between each pitch and, with the count 1-2, Scherzer reached back for a fastball that flew out of his right hand at 94 mph.
“[Martinez] asked what I wanted to do, and I said I wanted to finish it,” Scherzer said. “I knew how much I got in the tank. I had plenty in the tank.”
When he did end it, when Bryant’s bat whipped through the zone and found nothing but air, a big cheer coursed through the ballpark and into the cool September night. After all that rain, and with more on the way, a waterlogged weekend had its moment.
And then it had a second moment four hours later, with the crack of Harper’s light-brown bat, as Saturday night became Sunday morning and it was time to dry off and go home.