A lot has been made over the last two days about opposing teams avoiding Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper. In a four-game series from Thursday to Sunday, the Cubs walked Harper 13 times in 18 plate appearances, including six walks in seven PA on Sunday. It worked, because Harper was able to register only one single and his team suffered a sweep at Wrigley Field.
The Tigers weren’t as adamant about avoiding Harper as the Cubs were, but Harper still walked twice in four trips to the dish in Monday’s walk-off 5-4 win. He was hitless with a strikeout in his other two plate appearances.
Ryan Zimmerman has hit fourth behind Harper in 27 of 32 games, including Monday. On Sunday, he left a record 14 runners on base (six of which were Harper) in a 1-for-7 performance. Zimmerman came into Monday’s contest hitting a meager .236/.293/.340 with one home run and 12 RBI in 116 plate appearances. Zimmerman went hitless on Monday and stranded five more base runners. Daniel Murphy, who has mostly hit fifth behind Zimmerman, went 2-for-4 with a two-run home run. He entered Monday’s action batting an astounding .395/.439/.640.
Nationals manager Dusty Baker needs to swap Zimmerman in the batting order. Opposing managers will be less willing to pitch around Harper with Murphy coming up. Right now, with the way Zimmerman has been hitting, there’s no deterrent. Yes, it will create two left-handed hitters in a row, which might make it more likely that both Harper and Murphy will face a lefty specialist late in games. But that won’t outweigh the gain of Harper being able to see legitimate pitches in the strike zone from pitchers earlier in the game.
It doesn’t have to be a permanent thing. If Zimmerman heats up and Murphy cools down, they can simply be flipped in the batting order again. Right now, though, with the way each hitter is performing, Baker is costing his team runs (and wins) by leaving Zimmerman behind Harper and Murphy behind Zimmerman.