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Bryce and Bryan Harper: Brothers, best friends and baseball

Bryce and Bryan Harper: Brothers, best friends and baseball

The similarities between Bryce and Bryan Harper are there if you look for them. They share a resemblance in the face, and their voices are close enough that you might mistake them for each other over the phone.

At 6-foot-5, Bryan is noticeably taller. He's also leaner, having lost 20 pounds over the offseason, a change he attributes to helping him raise his fastball velocity from 86-87 miles per hour to 89-90.

The lefty reliever and older brother of Bryce has been a force in the minors this season, boasting a 1.44 ERA through 21 appearances, 20 of them with the Harrisburg Senators in the Double-A Eastern League. He's held opposing batters to a .141 average with 21 strikeouts in 25 innings and has six saves in seven opportunities. 

Those numbers earned him a promotion on Monday to Triple-A Syracuse, where he will continue working towards his dream of making the big leagues. 

"I think I had a really solid offseason. I worked my butt off to lose a little bit of weight. I think that really helped," Bryan explained. "It's kept me loose and free and my arm can work the way it's naturally supposed to work."

Harper, 26, has held right-handers to a .180 BAA through 55 plate appearances, lefties are hitting just .085 with a .226 OPS in 37 PAs.

"They've put me in good situations to succeed and I've been fortunate enough to do the job and have a good time so far," he said.

With Bryce playing every day with the Nationals, Bryan stays up to date by looking at his game logs. When Bryce follows Bryan, he often looks beyond the box score.

"We talk almost every day," Bryce said. "I really think if you're throwing strikes and pounding the strike zone, if his slider is down in the zone and his changeup is down in the zone and if his heater's moving a little bit, then it's all good."

As kids in Las Vegas, NV, Bryce always looked up to Bryan. Now he's above him in the Nationals' organization as a big leaguer and, as one of the game's best hitters, can share advice and tips as a professional at dismantling opposing pitchers. He's also worked with him many times as a former catcher.

"Growing up, it was more of me just wanting to be like him. Now it's more how I can help him and how he can help me and that's something we look forward to," Bryce said. "The older we've gotten, the more and more I'm able to help him and talk to him about his path to the big leagues and how he's doing in the minors."

It's a role reversal of sorts, as Bryce learned so much from Bryan throughout his childhood.

"Growing up having Bryan as my older brother, he was always so competitive in everything we played. If that was basketball or football or baseball, or anything. I wanted to be like him. That's why I'm a left-handed hitter. I wanted to throw left-handed, but I couldn't. I was terrible at throwing left-handed, so I stuck to right-handed," Bryce explained.

"All I wanted to do was be like him. I wanted to wear the same clothes, I wanted to drive the same car, I wanted to hang out with all of his friends. He'd get so mad because I always wanted to go out and hang out with his friends and I'm a frickin' eighth grader or freshman. He was like 'what are you doing, why are you coming to hang out with me?'"

Bryan remembers those days and how their relationship has changed over the years since then.

"I'm a junior in high school and I'm trying to obviously do my own thing. I'm 17 years old and he's a little eighth grader," Bryan recalled. 

"I want to get away from my family at that point like any other 17 or 18 year old kid. He was trying to tag along. I think that's just a brotherly thing. Once we both went into college, we played together and we became best friends. We're still best friends to this day."

Bryan thinks Bryce always playing sports with older kids growing up may have helped him become the athlete he is today. When playing with older competition, he was often the smallest kid on the court or the field.

"I think that's definitely really helped," Bryan said. "With me and Bryce being in baseball together, I've looked at other brothers. The Maddux brothers, Mike and Greg. Mike was a great pitcher and he's a great pitching coach now for us, but Greg is a Hall of Famer... Bryce is just one of those freak athletes that it worked out where he was always tagging along with me. He had to keep up otherwise he was going to be left behind."

During Bryce's acceptance speech for the 2015 NL MVP award last year, the 23-year-old tearfully thanked his family, singling out his parents, Ron and Sheri, and his siblings, Bryan and his sister, Britt.

Bryan explained how that moment was a reflection of their upbringing.

"I think that's what my dad always preached to us. Blood is thicker than water," he said. 

"That was the thing growing up, look out for your family members. That's from my dad. He came from a really strong family with his brothers and sisters. He came from a broken home, his parents were divorced and stuff like that. But his brothers and sisters, they were really close because they had to be."

After one year as teammates at the College of Southern Nevada, the Harpers went their separate ways. Bryce was drafted by the Nationals with the first overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft. He was off to the Arizona Fall League later that year and then Hagerstown and Harrisburg the next summer.

Bryan transferred to the University of South Carolina for the 2011 season. He played one year with the Gamecocks and won the College World Series under legendary coach Ray Tanner and alongside Red Sox star Jackie Bradley, Jr.

It was an experience Bryan feels fortunate to have been a part of. And it's something that has helped shape Bryce's perspective as an MLB superstar.

"Being 19 in the big leagues is something that I was able to do," Bryce said. "But he took a different path. He was able to go to college and win a national championship. He was able to go to football games at South Carolina. Those memories will never be taken away from him. I'm a little jealous about that part because it's something I would have really enjoyed."

"You know he's always been jealous of that," Bryan said. "That's one thing he always wanted. He always talked growing up about going to [the University of] Texas. He always wanted to be a Longhorn because he just loved everything about it: the burnt orange, the uniforms."

Bryan pitched one week at Triple-A Syracuse last summer before beginning this season in Double-A. Now he's back with the Chiefs and again just one step away from reaching the major leagues

His path to the majors isn't clear quite yet with three lefties already in the Nats' bullpen, and others in the minor leagues like Matt Grace, Aaron Laffey and Nick Lee all showing promise. But Bryan Harper's performance this season has already earned him one promotion and he certainly appears to be on the right track to another.

"The minor leagues are a grind. I know a lot of people say that, but there's a lot of people that don't truly understand and actually do it," Bryan said. "As long as I go about it the right way I can hopefully get an opportunity to prove myself."

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Sean Doolittle reacts to Houston Astros’ sign stealing allegations

Sean Doolittle reacts to Houston Astros’ sign stealing allegations

All eyes in the baseball world are on the Houston Astros this week as they’re investigated for allegedly stealing signs using a high-powered camera in 2017 after The Athletic published a report Tuesday that included a former player of the team verifying the accusations.

Nationals closer Sean Doolittle weighed in on the scandal Thursday night on Twitter, posting a thread commemorating Mike Fiers and Carson Smith for speaking out before slamming teams who go around the accepted rules for stealing signs.

Doolittle and the Nationals faced Houston in the 2019 World Series; although there’s no evidence the Astros used these sign-stealing techniques against them, The Washington Post reported that pitching coach Paul Menhart ordered the pitching staff to use more complex signs in the World Series in order to combat any potential wrongdoing on Houston’s part.

The Boston Red Sox were fined an undisclosed amount in 2017 for using an Apple Watch to steal signs from the New York Yankees, after which commissioner Rob Manfred issued a statement warning teams “that future violations of this type will be subject to more serious sanctions, including the possible loss of draft picks.”

Major League Baseball is investigating the allegations, with no timetable given for a conclusion. For now, Doolittle has a suggestion for how to spend your time.

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Dodgers' Cody Bellinger wins NL MVP, Anthony Rendon finishes third

Dodgers' Cody Bellinger wins NL MVP, Anthony Rendon finishes third

Anthony Rendon’s night went as expected Thursday. He finished third in National League MVP voting. 

Los Angeles slugger Cody Bellinger won the award for the first time in his career. Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich was second.

1. Cody Bellinger: 19 first-place votes, 10 second-place votes, 1 fifth-place vote

2. Christian Yelich: 10 first-place votes, 18 second-place votes, 1 third-place vote, 1 fourth-place vote

3. Anthony Rendon: 1 first-place vote, 1 second-place vote, 24 third-place votes, 3 fourth-place votes, 1 fifth-place vote

Rendon finished his best season with a 1.010 OPS, good for third in the National League, and a league-leading 126 RBIs and 44 doubles. By any measure, Rendon’s performance in 2019 exceeded those of his past years. His OPS-plus, WAR, slugging percentage, on-base percentage and average were all career bests. However, those numbers were not enough to take the award from Yelich or Bellinger, both of whom dominated the league throughout the season.

Bellinger led the NL in bWAR and tied with Yelich in fWAR. Yelich led the league in slugging percentage and OPS. Despite his totals being truncated by a season-ending knee injury -- a foul ball cracked his kneecap Sept. 10 -- Yelich remained a premier choice for the award. 

His .671 slugging percentage was the highest in the National League since Albert Pujols delivered the same number in 2006. He also stole 30 bases. Yelich led Bellinger in multiple statistics: Adjusted OPS-plus, average, slugging percentage and OPS. The question for voters became whether Yelich missing most of September was enough to undermine his case for the award.

Bellinger significantly increased his plate discipline en route to his best season. Bellinger swung at strikes 70.4 percent of the time, boosting his overall contact rate by almost six percent. His contact rate on pitches outside of the strike zone also went up since his attempts at such pitches declined.

Defining “value” is always part of the MVP discussion. Los Angeles was the league’s best team during the regular season. So, without Bellinger, where does it stand? It is in very good shape, but likely not a 106-win club. Milwaukee won 89 games. Thirteen of those wins came during a September surge without Yelich. Should he be penalized for the team, as a whole, playing well after his injury? Voters had to decide.

Both made the postseason, which is also sometimes used as a voting marker to determine value.

Three other Nationals also made their way onto ballots. Leftfielder Juan Soto placed ninth with 45 points while starting pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer finished 17th and 23rd, respectively. Strasburg and Scherzer also finished in the top five of NL Cy Young voting, which was announced Wednesday night.

The award, of late, has been passed around. Barry Bonds dominated it with four consecutive wins from 2001-2004. Albert Pujols commanded it next, winning three times between 2005-2009. There has not been a repeat winner since Pujols won his third in 2009. Joey Votto won in 2010; Ryan Braun in 2011; Buster Posey in 2012; Andrew McCutchen in 2013; Clayont Kershaw in 2014; Bryce Harper in 2015; Kris Bryant in 2016; Giancarlo Stanton in 2017 and Yelich last year. 

Bellinger, just 24 years old, will receive his chance in 2020.

Matt Weyrich contributed to this report.

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