by Chris Lingebach

WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — The Washington Nationals came up a little short, eliminated in four games by the Giants in their National League Division Series.

In the hours, days and weeks to come — knowing this town — there will be plenty of time to dissect what went wrong.

What led a Washington team which finished eighth in the Majors in the regular season in on-base percentage (.321), to finish eighth in the same statistical category (.222) of the eight teams to play in the divisional round of this year’s MLB Playoffs?

Losing, just as winning, is ever the team effort. Offensively, the Nationals were nonexistent for much of the series, hitting a collective .164 for average, with a .222 on-base percentage and .258 slugging, on four home runs and 26 hits. Comparatively, the Giants hit .222 with a .275 on-base and .278 slugging – one homer and 35 hits.

But let us first focus on one bright spot — a very bright spot — which should leave Nationals fans rather optimistic about their team’s future, both in regular seasons and playoffs to come.

For as bad, offensively, as the Nationals offensive production was, Bryce Harper was good.

His emergence in the playoffs allowed his team to survive as long as they did not only in theory, but in reality.

Harper’s 17 NLDS plate appearances yielded two walks, five hits – a single, a double and THREE home runs – and a .294/.368/.882 slash line, with four RBI. The Nationals scored nine runs in the series.

For a commonly beaten-dead comparison, Mike Trout, for the Angels — who were swept by the Royals — had 1 hit (HR) in 15 at-bats for a .083/.267/.333 slash line.

If visual evidence is more your thing, here are some of Harper’s 2014 playoff highlights for posterity. Remember that, rather than the Nationals’ fluky disappearing offense.

With Washington trailing San Francisco 3-0 in Game 1, Harper, facing hard-throwing righty Hunter Stickland for the first time in his career, took one deep, all the way into the third deck in right field at Nationals Park, bringing the score to 3-1.

In Game 3, with the Nationals leading 3-0 and the Giants threatening with a runner in scoring position in the bottom of the seventh, Harper reminded Travis Ishikawa that he’s not just a one-trick offensive stallion, robbing him of a sure single, which likely would have scored a run for the Giants. Brandon Belt, fleeing back to second base, seemed to underestimate Harper’s glove on the play, as well.

Later in that same game, the ninth inning, to be sure — and Washington still leading 3-0 — Harper stepped on the Giants’ throat, in his first dalliance with McCovey’s Cove.

Game 4. Top of the seventh. The Nationals trailing 2-1 facing a Giants bullpen charged with shutting Washington down, to move on to bigger and redder teams. Harper, facing Strickland again, tagged him one last time, launching a 97 MPH fastball out of the camera’s view which would, this time, splash down into Willie McCovey’s Cove, tying the game and allowing the Nationals to give the Giants chase one more time.

After the Giants officially eliminated the Nats, manager Matt Williams was asked what he thinks the baseball world thinks of Bryce Harper.

“I know that we’re proud of him. I know that much,” Williams said. “I know that he’s got great talent. I know that, at this point, he is healthy, and certainly now looking forward with great anticipation to next year.”

Harper not only came up big in the playoffs, he did so in every clutch situation imaginable: the Nationals trailing and badly needing a run (and facing elimination); the Nationals leading and in need of a step-on-the-throat moment; and defensively.

That should serve the Nationals and their fanbase well for years and years to come, in the regular season and beyond.


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