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The Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2016 — Full Countdown

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Over the past few days we’ve counted down the Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2016. In case you missed a few entries, here they all are:

1. The Chicago Cubs break the curse and win it all
2. Jose Fernandez killed in a boating accident
3. Vin Scully calls his final game
4. David Ortiz’s historic farewell season
5. Alex Rodriguez’s career comes to an end. Probably.
6. Ken Griffey Jr. gets a record 99.3% of the Hall of Fame vote
7. Baseball gets a new Collective Bargaining Agreement
8. The Year of the Reliever 
9. Bryce Harper ties to Make Baseball Fun Again
10. Aroldis Chapman gets baseball’s first domestic violence suspension 
11. The Drake LaRoche Sage tears the White Sox apart
12. Tim Tebow plays baseball
13. Ichiro becomes the All-Time Hit King
14. Bartolo Colon hits a homer
15. The Jose Bautista-Rougned Odor fight
16. Bud Selig gets elected to the Hall of Fame
17. Yoenis Cespedes shows off his wheels
18. MLB adopts “The Chase Utley Rule” 
19. Jenrry Mejia permanently banned for third positive PED test
20. The lifespan of a ballpark gets shorter
21. Chris Sale freaks out, shreds White Sox throwback jerseys
22. Trevor Story and Gary Sanchez make big rookie splashes
23. A.J. Preller suspended for hiding medical information
24. Ryan Howard and Ryan Zimmerman sue Al-Jazeera
25. Curt Schilling fired from ESPN

I hope you enjoyed these. Thanks so much for making HardballTalk and NBC Sports part of your daily routine over the past year. Here’s hoping 2017 is good to you and yours.

Nats’ success shouldn’t be about Bryce Harper

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Bryce Harper turns 27 years old today. As an early birthday present, he got to watch his former team reach the World Series for the first time in franchise history. His new team finished exactly at .500 in fourth place, missing the playoffs. These were facts that did not go unnoticed as the Nationals completed an NLCS sweep of the Cardinals at home last night.

Harper spent seven seasons with the Nationals before hitting free agency and ultimately signing with the Phillies on a 13-million, $330 million contract. The Nationals offered Harper a 10-year, $300 million contract at the end of the 2018 regular season, but about $100 million of that was deferred until he was 65 which lowered the present-day value of the offer. The Nats’ offer wasn’t even in the same ballpark, really.

Nevertheless, Nationals fans were upset that their prodigy jilted them to go to the Phillies. He was mercilessly booed whenever the Phillies played in D.C. Nats fans’ Harper jerseys were destroyed, or at least taped over.

Harper, of course, was phenomenal with the Nationals. He won the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2012, then won the NL MVP Award several years later with an historically outstanding 1.109 OPS while leading the league with 42 homers and 118 runs scored. Overall, as a National, he had a .900 OPS. Pretty good. He was also productive in the postseason, posting an .801 OPS across 19 games, mostly against playoff teams’ best starters and best relievers. Furthermore, if the Nats had Harper this year, he would have been in right field in lieu of Adam Eaton. Harper out OPS’d Eaton by 90 points and posted 2.5 more WAR in a similar amount of playing time. The Nationals would have been even better if they had Harper this year.

The Nationals lost all four Division Series they appeared in during the Harper era. 3-2 to the Cardinals in 2012, 3-1 to the Giants in ’14, 3-2 to the Dodgers in ’16, and 3-2 to the Cubs in ’17. They finally get over the hump the first year they’re without Harper, that’s the difference, right? I saw the phrase “addition by subtraction” repeatedly last night, referring to Harper and the Nats’ subsequent success without him.

Harper, though, didn’t fork over four runs to the Cardinals in the top of the ninth inning in Game 5 in 2012. He didn’t allow the Dodgers to rally for four runs in the seventh inning of Game 5 in ’16 before ultimately losing 4-3. He didn’t use a gassed Max Scherzer in relief in 2017’s Game 5, when he allowed five of the seven Cubs he faced to reach base, leading to three runs which loomed large in a 9-8 loss. If certain rolls of the dice in those years had gone the Nationals’ way, they would have appeared in the NLCS. They might’ve even been able to win a World Series.

The Nationals saw how that looks this year. It was the opposing manager this time, Dave Roberts, who mismanaged his bullpen. Howie Kendrick then hit a tie-breaking grand slam in the 10th inning off of Joe Kelly to win the NLDS for the Nats. The playoffs are random. Sometimes a ball bounces your way, sometimes an umpire’s call goes your way, and sometimes the opposing manager makes several unforced errors to throw Game 5 in your lap.

Reaching the World Series, then thumbing your nose while sticking out your tongue at Harper feels like a guy tagging his ex-girlfriend on his new wedding photos. It’s time to move on.