The last meeting between the Nationals and Cubs was marked by Joe Maddon's decision to give Bryce Harper the Barry Bonds treatment, walking him six times — including three intentional passes— in Chicago's 4-3 extra-inning win at Wrigley Field.
As bizarre a strategy as it seemed to blatantly avoid the reigning NL MVP, the decision worked; Ryan Zimmerman, then the cleanup hitter, was unable to make the Cubs pay after each Harper walk, going 0-for-6 in those situations.
Fast forward to Monday's matchup between the two clubs, the first since the infamous walk-a-thon, and much about the Nats offense has changed. Harper hasn't been the same hitter he was during his torrid April, but the bats around him have heated up. Daniel Murphy, who owns the best average in the big leagues at .369, was moved to the cleanup spot for better protection. Wilson Ramos might be the best hitting catcher in the National League so far this season. Anthony Rendon has thrived in the six-hole, and Danny Espinosa's gone on a home run barrage the last 15 games.
So given all that, would Maddon still walk Harper if the opportunity presents itself?
"I look at their lineup to see if there's are any openings in there," the Cubs' manager said before Monday's game. "They have Murphy behind Harper now, so that makes that more difficult to do that. So obviously that's one thing I wanted to look at."
Indeed, Murphy's surprise emergence made it an easy decision for Dusty Baker to move him to the No. 4 spot, so much so that the Nats' skipper even joked Sunday that the Cubs were the reason for rearranging his lineup. So even if Maddon decides to employ the walk-a-Bryce tactic, it seems unlikely that it'll work this time around.
"Right now Murphy might be the best hitter in baseball," Maddon said. "So you gotta look at the entirety of [the situation]. What our matchups look like going into a moment. The best way to beat them is to grab a lead and hold onto it. If you have to make those choices late in the game, a lot of times you're just making your best guess."
Of course, Harper has had to deal with other teams besides the Cubs opting not to test him. That said, what occurred on May 8 wasn't just bizarre, it was historic; he was the first player to reach base seven times in a game without registering a hit.
Who knows what tricks Chicago's unorthodox manager has up his sleeve this time, but Harper knows he has to take advantage of whatever opportunities that are given to him.
"You never know what Maddon's gonna do," Harper said. "....If I get a pitch, I need to drive it. If they walk me and put me on first, then it's just like any other team walking me and putting me on first....It's apart of baseball, and it worked out well for them last time, so we'll see what happens."