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Nationals fans enjoyed Bryce Harper's struggles in return to D.C.

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Nationals fans enjoyed Bryce Harper's struggles in return to D.C.

Round two wasn’t so kind to Bryce Harper.

We all remember round one, of course. In Harper’s first return to Nationals Park, coming in in just the second series of the season, the slugging outfielder dealt a knockout punch to the Nationals.

After striking out twice against Max Scherzer, Harper recorded three hits in that first game, capping the 8-2 Phillies win with a blast to the upper deck, which he followed with an epic bat flip directly at the Nationals dugout.

Point, Harper.

Since then, however, the Phillies are winless in Washington. The Nats split that two-game set in April, and just wrapped up a rain-shortened three-game home sweep Thursday night.

This week’s series, in particular, has been a struggle for Harper. He did walk four times, including twice against a black-eyed Max Scherzer, but the outfielder recorded just a single hit in the three-game set. He also struck out three times, highlighted by an ugly swing on a Javy Guerra breaking ball in the dirt.

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler summed it up succinctly when describing these at-bats from Harper: “It’s difficult to be patient in times when we're not playing good baseball.”

Even when he reached base, Harper never looked comfortable. He made multiple outs on the basepaths this series, including inning-enders at both third base and home plate.

Harper also continued to establish his disinterest in making (or keeping) fans in Washington.

During Thursday’s series finale, Harper ended an inning by catching a flyball in right field. He turned to the fans sitting near him, took the ball out of his glove, and looked around as if ready to provide a souvenir to one lucky fan.

Instead, it was a fake out. Harper kept the ball and jogged back to the dugout. Needless to say, fans were all too happy to voice their displeasure.

To be fair to Harper, he’s not the first player to mess with opposing fans. Though, in most cases, it’s not a fanbase that previously spent more than half a decade passionately supporting said player.

And he did relinquish the ball eventually, tossing it to a Phillies fan sitting near the third base dugout. Again in his defense, fans were already booing him, even before pretending to give away a ball.

But overall, it was just the latest tough series in a debut season full of them for Harper. A .243 batting average to go with an OPS of .809 isn’t what anybody in Philadelphia had in mind for his first two-plus months. His walk rate is way down and his strikeout rate is way up, and in the most home run-friendly environment in years, he’s hit just 12 long balls.

It’s not quite a terrible year, but it certainly hasn’t been great, either. If he’s going to enjoy a successful 13 years in the City of Brotherly Love, he’s eventually going to have to hit much better against his former team.

While he’s struggling, though, the Nationals are certainly happy to take advantage. The fans are, too.

After another long night for Harper, he came to the plate against Sean Doolittle with one out in the ninth inning. Fans booed him mercilessly, and then he struck out for the third time. It was like This Is Spinal Tap, and the volume had been turned up to 11.

In what, from the outside, seems like a tiring season for Harper already, it’s hard to imagine Nationals fans ever getting tired of letting their former star know exactly where he stands in their eyes. 

Series like this one just give them a little extra ammo to work with.


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Sean Doolittle speaks out against disbanding of several minor league affiliates

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Sean Doolittle speaks out against disbanding of several minor league affiliates

When Sean Doolittle speaks, it's usually a pretty good idea to listen.

The latest piece of news the Nationals' closer has weighed in on? The proposed changes to baseball's minor league system, in which several teams may lose their affiliations and 1,000 players -- not to mention countless local employees -- would lose their jobs.

Doolittle is responding to reports of incoming changes that would drastically alter the shape and, more importantly, scope of minor league baseball. 

In an era with rapidly-declining attendance and fan interest every year, it's confusing to Doolittle and others why Major League Baseball would take actions to limit exposure to thousands of fans.

Doolittle points out in his thread of tweets why this seems counter-intuitive to what baseball is trying to do in winning over young fans. At the end of the day, the decision comes down to money, which will ultimately hurt fans in more remote areas of the country.

The Nationals and Orioles would be impacted too. The Frederick Keys, Baltimore's Single-A affiliate, is on the chopping block despite some of the best attendance numbers and community efforts in their league. The Hagerstown Suns, the Nats' Single-A affiliate, are also potential victims.

Once again, baseball is having the wrong conversations when it comes to improving the sport. Hopefully cooler heads like Doolittle's prevail and local teams across the country can continue to operate, bringing baseball to new fans everywhere.


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Former Nationals first baseman Adam Dunn on MLB's 2020 Hall of Fame ballot

Former Nationals first baseman Adam Dunn on MLB's 2020 Hall of Fame ballot

The National Baseball Hall of Fame announced on Monday the 32 names that are on the 2020 ballot, and one former Nationals player was listed.

That would be first baseman Adam Dunn, who played for Washington for two seasons, 2009 and 2010. 

In his two seasons in the nation's capital, Dunn displayed the power that had only been seen by Alfonso Soriano before in a Nationals uniform. Dunn hit exactly 38 home runs in both seasons, topping 100 RBIs during both campaigns, too.

Of course, should Dunn be selected into the Hall of Fame, the Nationals would not be his primary team. The slugger spent the first eight seasons of his MLB career with the Cincinnati Reds, and spent three and a half seasons with the Chicago White Sox following his time in D.C.

2020 is Dunn's first year on the ballot. While he had a long, respectable career, it's unlikely he's voted in right away, if at all.

The Nationals still don't have a primary member in the Hall of Fame, as catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez is currently the only player in the Hall that sported a Curly W since the team relocated to Washington from Montreal in 2005.