Don’t Look Now, But Bryce Harper is Heating Up

WASHINGTON — Bryce Harper’s performance this season, before he missed five games in early August due to injury, had taken a noticeable hit from his NL MVP 2015 campaign.

From the start of 2016 to Aug. 6, Harper hit .233/.374/.438 with 20 home runs and 57 RBI, a far cry from his Ruthian .330/.460/.649 season line in 2015 but, aside from a low average, was still getting on base.

His batting average against balls in play (BAbip) in this time — essentially, if he’s hitting the ball where the defense is not — was a meager .237.

If you want to pinpoint this drop a little more precisely, he hit .221/.350/.364 from May 9 onward, after Joe Maddon’s Cubs took a historically unorthodox approach of nearly outright refusing to throw him anything he could hit.

Well, don’t look now, but Harper has been scorching the ball since returning to the Nationals’ lineup.

Since Aug. 14, he’s hitting .391/.491/.609 with a robust 1.100 OPS, a 12-game stretch which includes two homers, four doubles, nine walks and 13 RBI in 55 plate appearances. He has also posted a .444 BAbip.

Small sample? Yes. But it’s a trend that, if he keeps up, shows he may have finally unlocked the MVP dominance that’s eluded him all season.

The Nationals have done just fine without him at his best. They’re leading the NL East by eight games with 35 games remaining. Daniel Murphy has filled the void with his own MVP-caliber production anyhow, logging a league-leading .346 average, and a career-best 24 homers and 96 RBI.

Wilson Ramos has brought his own career-best firepower to the equation, with a .312/.360/.510 slash line, 19 homers and 67 RBI. And, Anthony Rendon — hitting .323 with seven homers and 27 RBI since the All-Star break (35 games) — is beginning to show a resurgence not far off from his stellar 2014 sophomore album.

Jayson Werth since the break? He’s hitting a comfortable .248 with a .345 on-base percentage, seven taters and 16 RBI.

Michael Baumann of The Ringer published an article Friday in which he parallels Trea Turner’s penchant for wreaking havoc (with his speed) to that of a Batman villain. This revealing excerpt lies within:

That’s how he manages to compensate for a lack of top-end power. Not only does his ability to beat out grounders allow him to get on base more; once he’s there Turner exudes an aura not unlike the Scarecrow’s drug in Batman Begins, sowing panic in his wake wherever he goes. (Which, of course, makes Bryce Harper Ra’s al Ghul in this metaphor.) After all, there’s more than one way to get into scoring position, and the specter of that kind of chaos on the base paths in front of Harper, Daniel Murphy, and Wilson Ramos in a playoff series ought to keep the Cubs and whoever emerges from the NL West thunderdome up at night. Turner isn’t actually a character out of Batman, but he’s at least as much fun to watch.

If the Nats’ plan all along has been to gut through Harper’s struggles (by his own measures), while hoping he can just get right in time for the postseason, then we may be witnessing that plan come to fruition.

If this Harper trend is for real, then maybe — just maybe — the Nationals could be in line to make history in October.

All figures according to Baseball-Reference.com.

Follow @ChrisLingebach and @1067TheFan on Twitter.

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