Bryce Harper is hitless in his last 15 at-bats with seven strikeouts. With the playoffs quickly approaching, is it time to worry about the Washington Nationals right fielder?
Washington Nationals Manager Dusty Baker has never come off as the type to overreact about his players’ slumps. The fact that he’s stuck with Danny Espinosa and Ryan Zimmerman for so long is a testament to that. But after reigning MVP Bryce Harper’s 0-for-4 performance that featured a pair of strikeouts Saturday afternoon, even he recognized that his cleanup hitter didn’t look right.
"“I’ve been concerned about Bryce for a while,” Baker said. “I just know that he keeps swinging, he’s going to be Bryce. And I’m just hoping it happens in the nick of time, come the last couple weeks of September and the playoffs.” (h/t Jorge Castillo, The Washington Post)"
Harper, despite being tied with Paul Goldschmidt for the league lead in walks, has posted a disappointing .823 OPS this season. His 24 home runs and 81 RBIs are both the second highest marks of his career, but his power has never come into question. Harper has been generating weak contact at a rate of 20.9 percent, the highest he has ever seen in the Majors.
His line drive rate is also at an all-time low (16.2 percent), raising the question as to why Harper has struggled to square up the ball. Analysts and coaches alike have all tried to give their explanations as to why the 23-year old phenom can’t pick up his play, but to no avail.
Should Nats fans be worried about Harper once the playoffs get underway. The Nats will most likely be facing the Dodgers in the first round, where Clayton Kershaw, Kenta Maeda, and Rich Hill await. Harper has shown flashes of heating up, but time is running out for him to prepare for Los Angeles’ rotation.
Harper has shown the ability to come up big when it counts before. He hit .294 with three home runs in the NLDS in 2014. This season, he isn’t expected to carry the offense like in years past. As long as Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon, and Trea Turner continue to hit like they have, the Nats should be fine offensively. Harper can help push them over the top, any any resemblance of his previous form would be welcomed with open arms.
It may be fair for the D.C. faithful to worry about Harper, but they shouldn’t worry about the Nats. This is a deep team with some talented players. They should be in for an exciting postseason.