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Slump leaves Harper in battle for batting title

Oct 1, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT

USA Today Sports Images

ATLANTA — What looked like close to a sure thing only a few days ago — a batting title for Bryce Harper — is now completely up for grabs over the season’s final four days.

Harper has seen his lead over the Marlins’ Dee Gordon shrink to a mere two-thousandths of a point during his first legitimate slump of the year. With only three hits in his last 26 at-bats, Harper’s batting average has dropped from .343 to .3313. He still clings to the slimmest of leads over Gordon (.3311), but the race is now on through the final days of the season.

Harper had been cruising along, enjoying a dominant 16-game stretch in which he hit .431 with 10 homers and a 1.532 OPS to lock up the NL MVP vote. But beginning with last week’s series against the Orioles (the only 3-game set he has failed to record at least one hit in this year) he has taken a big step back.

Harper’s only three hits during this stretch all came during Saturday’s 12-inning victory over the Phillies, leaving him hitless in seven of his last eight games. He has drawn only two walks in his last five games, lowering his league-leading on-base percentage from .471 to .463.

“Just missing some balls,” manager Matt Williams said of Harper’s slump. “I think he’s fine. Over the course of a season, you’re going to have these little peaks and valleys. One swing of the bat tomorrow and he can be right back out of it again. He’s had a great season.”

Gordon has kept the pressure on this week, going 11 for his last 31, though he went 1-for-5 on Wednesday to lower his average from .332 to .331. The Miami second baseman has played in nine fewer games (141) than Harper (150) but has compiled 88 more at-bats (598 to 510) because of a huge disparity in walks (25 to 124).

Harper is attempting to win only the third batting title in Expos/Nationals franchise history, joining Tim Raines (1986) and Al Oliver (1982). He’s trying to become only the fifth batting champion in Washington baseball history, joining two-time winner Mickey Vernon (1946, 1953), Buddy Myer (1935) and Goose Goslin (1928).

“That’s definitely something I want to get,” Harper said after Tuesday’s game. “I think walks will help that. If I can keep drawing walks, doing what I can, if I just keep — not doing what I’m doing right now, because that ain’t working — hopefully doing what I’ve been doing the last couple months and try to get locked back into that.”

  1. Section 222 - Oct 1, 2015 at 10:20 AM

    Harper is playing for a batting title, and the Nats are trying to stay over .500. Who would’ve thought?

    And to the pessimists who said back in May that the Nats were a lousy .500 team, I tip my cap to you. Happy now?

    • homeparkdc - Oct 1, 2015 at 10:32 AM

      Yeah, and two months ago I joked about the team honoring the 10th anniversary by going 81-81 like in 2005. It’s really not funny.

    • JayB - Oct 1, 2015 at 11:07 AM

      decidedly not happy now…..I called them for 100 wins….they should had the talent even with all the injuries to win 90 and the division. What produced this was not negative posters or injuries….it was amazingly poor leadership when from Rizzo and MW

      • Section 222 - Oct 1, 2015 at 11:11 AM

        You’re not happy because you care about the team and expected them to do better. I’m wondering about the guys who called them for 81 win at most. They were mostly ridiculed at the time, but they were right. Baseball is a funny game.

      • veejh - Oct 1, 2015 at 11:19 AM

        Those were probably real trolls. Pure dumb luck that they were right. Nobody actually thought this team stunk from the onset (unless they had a crystal ball that works).

    • adcwonk - Oct 1, 2015 at 4:37 PM

      Those were probably real trolls. Pure dumb luck that they were right. Nobody actually thought this team stunk from the onset (unless they had a crystal ball that works).

      Yep. They were. Every time one of those guys said it, I responded with “wanna bet” and nobody took me up on it. They clearly didn’t really believe it.

      • Section 222 - Oct 1, 2015 at 5:20 PM

        Good thing for you they didn’t respond, or your wallet would be good deal thinner. 🙂 You have to admit though, trolls or not, they were right and we were wrong. There’s a lesson in humility here that we all can benefit from.

      • adcwonk - Oct 2, 2015 at 9:52 AM

        Yep — I was wrong. But (seriously speaking), I’d much rather be wrong than ever ever be a troll.

      • Section 222 - Oct 2, 2015 at 11:22 AM

        I would do, but you have to admit it’s a personal choice. If folks would just accept that some people like to use this site to vent and criticize and not take attacks on the team as attacks on those of us who defend the team, i.e., “live and let live”, the Great NI Schism of 2015 would never have happened.

      • adcwonk - Oct 2, 2015 at 11:38 AM

        Nats fans venting is fine. O’s fans, or whomever, trolling s#cks. Nats fans venting by saying the same thing over and over and over and over and over again, and not responding to logic s#cks, too. Nats fans venting based on making stuff up (e.g., ” X is starting again? MW is an idiot”, when it turns out that the player who is the alternative to X is injured) is just too negative for me.

        The Great NI Schism happened not because people took it personally (for the most part), but because it was just unpleasant to read through all that cr@p, much of which was just infantile.

        Yeah, being a troll is a choice. So is choosing to avoid blogs where trolls set the agenda.

      • Section 222 - Oct 2, 2015 at 11:51 AM

        The causes of the GNIS will be debated for generations to come. Whether it will have the lasting impact on the world of the Great Schism of 1054 remains to be seen.

        Your comment contains a key point though — you said that venting based on making stuff up is too negative *for you*. And that’s fine, you’re entitled to your opinions and your reactions and what blogs you frequent. My opinion is that the LoD or the trolls or whatever you want to call those whose outlook is different than yours didn’t set the agenda here at all. Nor were all of them necessarily worthy the scorn that was heaped on them by the “regular commenters.”

        But what’s done is done on that score. The irony is that the negative commenters were actually right — certainly about the end result for the Nats. And that, I think, should be a lesson to those who assume that if you are being negative you are by definition a troll or wrong.

      • adcwonk - Oct 2, 2015 at 3:50 PM

        Yes, it was too negative to me, and that’s why I reduced, dramatically, my time here. And so, too, others.

        The irony is that the negative commenters were actually right

        They were right about the Nats record — they were wrong about a whole host of other things. Denard Span is not Nyjer Morgan, Strasburg is not washed up, Bryce Harper and Esco _are_ capable of hitting .300, the Nats, as a team _can_ score runs, Rizzo is not cheap, and the list goes on and on.

        Nor were all of them necessarily worthy the scorn that was heaped on them by the “regular commenters.”

        Agreed. But IMHO, some were. Some were so bad that they got banned by MZ, right? (although, usually, only after they used profanity), and some of them are back under different names.

  2. sunshinebobby - Oct 1, 2015 at 10:20 AM

    If he doesn’t win it, we only have one player to thank — Jonathan Papelbon, the Boston strangler.

    • Reverendp - Oct 1, 2015 at 1:10 PM

      +1 sunshine

  3. homeparkdc - Oct 1, 2015 at 10:29 AM

    On the bright side, tonight’s Braes pitcher, RH Ryan Weber, has a 31.50 ERA for the last 7 days. Go Bryce !!!

  4. NatsNut - Oct 1, 2015 at 10:40 AM

    C’mon Bryce, hang in there buddy. You can do this!

    • natsfan1a - Oct 1, 2015 at 11:07 AM

      What she said.

  5. langleyclub - Oct 1, 2015 at 10:59 AM

    It’s hard to play for stats. It messes with your mind. As much as he can, he needs to forget the stat battles for BA and HRs, and just play to win like he has all year. That is what got him in position to win the batting and HR titles.

    • bowdenball - Oct 1, 2015 at 11:06 AM

      Yup. He’s in a particularly difficult position because the two things he’s currently chasing, hits to boost his batting average and RBis, do not mesh well with the patient approach he’s exhibited all year. The latter in particular.

      • Section 222 - Oct 1, 2015 at 11:09 AM

        Just focus on getting hits and drawing walks like he has all year. The RBIs may come, if there are guys on base. If not, they won’t. (That’s why it’s a dumb stat.) Who knows, he might hit a few dingers and win that crown too. But I’m mostly hoping for the slashline triple crown. That would be truly awesome.

  6. JayB - Oct 1, 2015 at 11:18 AM

    I think he will get hot and hit like 4 homeruns with no one on 😦 If one thing is for sure…Harper is a gamer and a once in a lifetime talent. His year has been fun to watch and if they do not spend $500Million to sign him lifetime contract they are fools.

    • veejh - Oct 1, 2015 at 11:22 AM

      $500M? No way.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 1, 2015 at 11:41 AM

        You don’t think he’d take that?

      • veejh - Oct 1, 2015 at 11:47 AM

        Oh, he’d take $500M. I don’t think the Lerners have the balls to offer it.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 1, 2015 at 11:54 AM

        OTOH, Matt Williams says Harper is missing balls. So there’s that.

      • veejh - Oct 1, 2015 at 11:54 AM

        LOL

  7. JayB - Oct 1, 2015 at 11:38 AM

    for life of his career…..it would be a steal

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 1, 2015 at 11:47 AM

      AAV of $25MM for 20 years … What’s $25 MM going to buy in 2039?

      • veejh - Oct 1, 2015 at 11:52 AM

        Offer Bryce 6 for $180M right now. Cancel his old contract. This would only lock him up for 3 more years with the Nats and he’ll make quite a bit more for the next 3.

      • veejh - Oct 1, 2015 at 11:56 AM

        …..and it would provide him some immediate insurance against an injury that could derail his career.

    • alexva6 - Oct 1, 2015 at 11:56 AM

      what do you mean by life of his career? 15 yrs, 20yrs?

      no way he signs without an “opt out” if you are talking about an annual average of less than 30M

  8. JayB - Oct 1, 2015 at 11:53 AM

    20 years is 2036 right?

    I think it is a fair statement to him and the fans and Uncle Ted would make money on it….not that he needs it….Forbes has him pegged a a multi..multi billionaire as you all know. DC tax payers kicked in more to bring the team here…..Ted can kick it in to pay them back….

    • senators5 - Oct 1, 2015 at 5:24 PM

      Actually, all of you young affluent season ticket holders will shoulder the brunt of Harper’s salary. The Lerners did not get where they are by spending their own money. So from an old retired guy living only on a pension, I thank you folks very much for keeping our third major league team here in DC and I am not being sarcastic as I mean it.

  9. naterialguy - Oct 1, 2015 at 11:56 AM

    One thing to keep in mind IMHO is the the great teams of recent have let great players walk when they reach a certain salary level.
    IE Albert Pujols, “the Panda”
    So as much as it disappoints me to see such favorites as Zmnn and Desi leave it seems to be the better thing to do management wise.
    If you sign them all you risk becoming the Phillies and even then, eventually letting them go unceremoniously.
    I do however believe that Bryce is once a decade phenom though and being an everyday player (as opposed to a pitcher) could be worth locking upand being the cornerstone of the team for years to come.

  10. JayB - Oct 1, 2015 at 12:02 PM

    Cards let Albert walk when he was older….Panda is Fat…….Bryce is 22 and will be Hall of Famer production into his late 30’s or early 40’s if he wants to be

    • naterialguy - Oct 1, 2015 at 2:03 PM

      Like I stated, I feel Bryce is an exception and should be locked up long term.

  11. natsguy - Oct 1, 2015 at 1:18 PM

    I have a feeling at least one of the Mets games is going to get postpned due to the hurricane. Whether they bother to play it at all effects Bryce and his chase for some stats. It would be really nice if he had a great game tonight to ease the pressure on him.

  12. naterialguy - Oct 1, 2015 at 2:05 PM

    Mets are still chasing home field

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