The Week Ahead: Countdown to deadline for Harper, Nats

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As with all of the players selected in the 2010 draft, No. 1 overall selection Bryce Harper has until midnight ET on Monday night to sign a deal.

If he doesn’t reach an agreement with the Washington Nationals, Harper could return to college or sign somewhere else, such as an independent league. This seems unlikely, since Harper skipped his final two years of high school so he could become draft-eligible early. But I guess you can’t rule anything out.

Harper is only one of many players facing the deadline — according to Baseball America only 15 of the 32 first-round picks have signed – but he’s certainly the biggest name.

In an odd twist on Sunday, Nationals rookie pitcher Stephen Strasburg had some blunt words for Harper, saying “if he doesn’t want to play here, then we don’t want him here.”

This is interesting on a number of levels. As you probably know, Strasburg was the No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft and he waited until seconds before the deadline to agree to a contract. Also, Strasburg shares the same agent as Harper, Scott Boras, so he surely has been in enough strategy sessions to know that this is how Boras operates.

Perhaps Strasburg forgot. Or maybe he is just toeing the company line for some reason. Then again, maybe he just doesn’t want Harper to surpass his record $15.1 rookie contract. Either way, there should be plenty of drama for Nats fans as the deadline nears on Monday night.

Meanwhile, as you ponder whether the 17-year-old Harper is worth all the trouble, you should remember that he is universally regarded as a special talent on the field. You should also remember that there have been questions about his makeup, such as this passage from Baseball Prospectus:

One scout called him among the worst amateur players he’s ever seen from a makeup standpoint, with top-of-the-scale arrogance, a disturbingly large sense of entitlement, and on-field behavior that includes taunting opponents. “He’s just a bad, bad guy,” said one front-office official. “He’s basically the anti-Joe Mauer.”

Yikes!

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
Rangers at Rays, Aug. 16-18:
This could be a preview of what could be a very delicious playoff series. Cliff Lee vs. David Price? Matt Garza vs. Tommy Hunter? What’s not to like?

White Sox at Twins, Aug. 17-19: The Twins took two of three when these teams hooked up last week in Minnesota, now the White Sox have a chance to fight back. Chicago enters the week just three games back in the AL Central.

Giants at Phillies, Aug. 17-19: No guarantees from any Giants players after dropping two of three to the Padres over the weekend. Now they have to face the Phillies, who they are battling for the wild card lead.

Giants at Cardinals, Aug. 20-22: It’s a tough week for San Francisco, as after Philly the Giants travel to St. Louis. They cap the brutal stretch with a home series against the Reds next week.

Reds at Dodgers, Aug. 20-22: Cincinnati rebounded from their pummeling at the hands of the Cardinals with a sweep of the Marlins to retake the NL Central lead. Now a road trip to Arizona and Los Angeles this week, where they can just about put the Dodgers out of commission.

ON THE TUBE
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m. ET: Giants at Phillies (ESPN)
Wednesday, 10:10 p.m.: Rockies at Dodgers (ESPN)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Braves at Cubs (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Rangers at Orioles (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Angels at Twins (FOX)
Sunday, 2 p.m.: Giants at Cardinals (TBS)
Sunday, 8:10 p.m.: Angels at Twins (ESPN)
*Check local listings

And for those of you who have asked for a schedule of MLB Network games, you may find that here.

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Battle of the Aces: Max Scherzer takes on Clayton Kershaw tonight

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I hope you don’t have any plans tonight at around 10PM Eastern time, because that’s when we get a pitching matchup for the ages as Max Scherzer will take on Clayton Kershaw at Dodger Stadium. When they meet tonight it will be the first time two pitchers with three or more Cy Young Awards have matched up since 2006. That year, and in 2005 and 2000, Roger Clemens faced Greg Maddux. In 2001 Clemens faced Pedro Martinez.

Kershaw won his hardware in 2011, 2013 and 2014, with an MVP award in 2014 to boot. Scherzer collected trophies in 2013, 2016 and 2017. Each has started the 2018 season in Cy Young form. Kershaw is 1-2, but that record is due to poor run support. He has a 1.73 ERA and has struck out 31 batters and has walked only three in 26 innings. Scherzer is 3-1 with a 1.33 ERA and a whopping 38 strikeouts to only 4 walks in 27 innings.

This will be the third time that Kershaw and Scherzer faced each other if you include the playoffs. The first meeting was a decade ago when both were rookies. They most recently faced off in Game 1 of the 2016 NLDS, way back when Scherzer only had one Cy Young Award to his credit. Kershaw beat Scherzer in that playoff game and the Dodgers beat Scherzer’s teams in the two regular season matchups, with neither guy setting the world on fire. As so often happens in baseball, the hype hasn’t been matched by reality.

Still, there’s always a chance it will. And even if, in the end, this turns into a slugfest, the first couple of innings should at least give us some hope of something good. I’ll be watching.