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.
Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal has not had a good postseason. Entering Monday night’s NLCS Game 3, he was batting .111/.238/.278 in 21 trips to the plate across the NLDS and the first two games of the NLCS.
Defense has also been an issue for Grandal. In Game 1 of the NLCS, Grandal was on the hook for two passed balls. In the sixth inning of Game 3 Monday night, he couldn’t corral a curve in the dirt, which allowed Travis Shaw to score the Brewers’ second run of the night. Starter Walker Buehler was charged with a wild pitch. In the eighth, with Ryan Braun on first base and Shaw at the plate, Grandal again couldn’t corral a pitch in the dirt, allowing Braun to move to second base. Fortunately for the Dodgers, Alex Wood was able to escape the inning with no damage.
Manager Dave Roberts said that Austin Barnes, not Grandal, will start behind the plate for Game 4 on Tuesday night, Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times reports. That comes as no surprise at all. When Grandal struck out with the bases loaded in the ninth inning, Dodger fans regaled him with boos.
Barnes will be an upgrade defensively, but he’s lacking with the bat. He had an 0-for-3 performance in Game 2, though with an RBI, bringing his career slash line in the playoffs to .200/.281/.300 across 57 plate appearances. During the regular season, his career 100 adjusted OPS is a fair bit behind Grandal’s 115. Roberts is trading offense for defense in Game 4. Rich Hill will get the start opposite the Brewers’ Gio González.