Much was made of Bryce Harper‘s lackluster — by his standards — first half. After a torrid April, Harper hit just .221 with a .293 on-base percentage in May, then followed that up with a .188/.333/.341 June. He went into the All-Star break with an .833 OPS which is good for most hitters, but pedestrian by Harper’s own standards. Many eyes were carefully watching Harper’s stats as the superstar is a free agent after the season and is expected to cash in with a very lucrative contract.
Harper won the Home Run Derby in dramatic fashion and has been hitting the cover off of the ball in 16 games since the break. Entering Tuesday’s doubleheader against the Braves, Harper batted .367/.484/.673 with three home runs and 14 RBI in 62 plate appearances. In five August games, Harper accrued multiple hits in four of them. He stayed hot in the first game of the doubleheader, going 2-for-5 with a solo home run and an RBI single in the Nationals’ 8-3 win.
The Nationals limped into the All-Star break below .500 at 47-48. Though the team didn’t go into an official sell-off mode, GM Mike Rizzo let other teams know he would listen to trade offers for Harper. The Nats have gone 10-6 in the second half thus far and sit only five games back of the first-place Phillies and 3.5 games behind the second-place Braves. If Harper can keep hitting well, he could propel the Nats, the preseason favorites in the division, into first place.
“We haven’t had many games like this,” Dodgers manager Dave Robert said after last night’s loss to the Yankees. That’s for sure.
There were no wild walkoff hits. There were no home runs by Dodger batters. There were two, including a grand slam, from Didi Gregorius, however, and he and New York batters pounded Hyun-Jin Ryu, perhaps the stingiest pitcher in baseball this year, for seven runs on nine hits in four and a third as the Yankees beat the Dodgers 10-2 in Dodger Stadium.
Aaron Judge, who has been slumping something terrible, opened up the scoring with a solo home run in the third. Two batters later Gary Sánchez matched him with a blast of his own. An A.J. Pollock RBI single in the bottom half of the inning made it a 2-1 game but after that the Yankees stepped on the gas with a five-run fifth highlighted by a Didi Gregorius grand slam. Gleber Torres would homer in the sixth, Judge would single home a run in the eighth and Gregorius would strike again in the ninth with a solo homer for his second blast of the night. That one gave the Yankees 57 bombs in the month of August, which sets a team record. There’s still a week left in August too.
As for the Dodgers, Ryu was uncharacteristically rusty, though it probably should be noted that this was his second poor outing in a row. struggled through his second straight sub-par outing. The last time out he lost to Atlanta. allowing all four Braves’ runs in 5 2/3 innings as the Dodgers fell 4-3. His ERA came in to this game at a still-MLB-best 1.64, but those seven runs in fewer than five — his shortest outing in nearly two months — puffed it up to an even 2.00.
The Yankees scored just nine runs in their three losses in Oakland. Last night they beat that by one. And they brought themselves to within one game of the Dodgers for the best record in all of baseball, which would determine home field in the World Series should these two powerhouses meet.
For now, though, Roberts is limiting the implications of all of this to Friday night, saying “fortunately, it only counts for one loss.” Yep. But man, it was an ugly one.