The Curious Case Of Bryce Harper���s .214 Batting Average

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Max Scherzer takes the mound Friday. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

By Jorge Castillo , Reporter

Eight days ago, the Washington Nationals embarked on a seven-game road trip fresh off a 7-3 homestand. They were 5 1/2 games out of first place in the National League East with 47 games to go. Reaching the playoffs required work, but it was certainly possible. Just over a week later, the Nationals return home reeling.

After a 2-5 road trip, they are 61-61 and eight games behind the first-place Atlanta Braves. The Philadelphia Phillies sit 6 1/2 games ahead of the Nationals in second place. They play them next, after a three-game set against the last-place Miami Marlins. There’s no margin for error. They must start piling up wins immediately. Their postseason hopes depend on it.

RELYING ON MAD MAX

A month ago, Max Scherzer was not pitching to his atypical standards. He had allowed at least three runs in three consecutive starts. His ERA had climbed to 2.43. For most pitchers, that’s more than acceptable. For Scherzer, it was a rough patch.

Since then, the right-hander has allowed five earned runs in five starts. He has struck out 45 batters and walked six. His 2.19 ERA ranks fourth in baseball and second in the NL behind the Mets’ Jacob deGrom, his only competition for a third straight Cy Young Award.

Scherzer returns to the mound Friday night against a club that he held to one unearned run across eight innings July 27. The Nationals could use a similar outing Friday to relieve a shorthanded bullpen.

BULLPEN BLUES

The Nationals’ bullpen was considered a strength not long ago. It boasted four relievers with considerable closing experience and a few other quality arms. It had spent more than a month compensating for a floundering starting rotation. It was reliable. That no longer is the case, not after Brandon Kintzler was traded, and Sean Doolittle, Kelvin Herrera and Ryan Madson were placed on the disabled list.

Madson is the latest addition, added to the DL with lumbar nerve irritation after admitting he had a problem when he allowed a walk-off grand slam Sunday night in Chicago. His injury forced the Nationals to turn to Koda Glover to close just a week after he came off the disabled list. Glover saved Thursday’s win over the St. Louis Cardinals, but only after surrendering a walk-off home run Monday. The hard-throwing right-hander will retain closing duties until one of those three injured former closers returns, which could be a while.

BRYCE IS BACK

Bryce Harper had a .214 batting average at the all-star break, a shocking number that overshadowed his high home run total and career-high walk rate. His agent blamed radical shifts. His manager insisted he would work through it. Harper remained confident.

A month later, Harper’s struggles are behind him. In 25 games since the break, which featured him winning the home run derby, the slugger is batting .352 with seven home runs and a 1.129 OPS. The stretch has buoyed his batting average to .243 — the highest it has been since May 6. He is spraying the ball to all fields again, resembling the hitter who some have believed will garner a $400 million contract this winter.

PITCHING PROBABLES

Friday: RHP Dan Straily vs. RHP Max Scherzer

Saturday: LHP Wei-Yin Chen vs. LHP Tommy Milone

Sunday: RHP Pablo Lopez vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez

More on the Nationals:

Last time out: Nats cap a bumpy road trip with a win in St. Louis

Jeremy Hellickson set for MRI on Friday, could start next week

Dusty Baker on life after the Nationals: ‘This was the toughest wound’

Source : https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/nationals-journal/wp/2018/08/17/marlins-nationals-series-preview-nats-are-back-home-with-no-margin-for-error/

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