With Bryce Harper already at the 40-home run mark and in pursuit of a likely NL MVP award, perhaps overlooked in his historic season is his chance for another rare and impressive accomplishment. With two more hits on Thursday night, Harper raised his NL-best batting average to .340. The first batting title in Nationals team history is well within reach.
Reinforcing that thought was the fact Marlins All-Star Dee Gordon was also on the field on Thursday. Gordon is second in the NL with a .333 average and had two hits himself in the game. But with the way Harper has been heating up, it's his award to lose.
Through 16 games in September, Harper is batting .423. That's up from his .327 average in August and his .300 mark in July. He reached the .340 mark on Thursday for the first time since July 12.
That day, July 12th, Harper actually mentioned the .340 mark as a specific goal for him this season.
"I'm pretty upset I dropped below .340 today, so hopefully I improve that," he said.
It took Harper 59 games to get back, but the Nats' right-fielder was not interested in talking about that number or the possibility of winning a batting title after Thursday's loss.
"I really don’t give a crap about my accolades or anything like that. I’m gonna play and I’m gonna play hard. At the end of the year, my numbers will be there and votes will be votes and whatever," he said.
Harper will surely be able to appreciate his season once it is over, as he is on pace to join some exclusive company, particularly in D.C. baseball history. He could become the fifth player in Washington history to win a batting title and the first in 62 years.
1928 - Goose Goslin - .379
1935 - Buddy Myer - .349
1946 - Mickey Vernon - .353
1953 - Mickey Vernon - .337
Harper is almost certain to finish this season with the best batting average in Nationals history. The current record is Dmitri Young, who hit .320 in 2007. Harper, in fact, has a chance to catch the Nats/Expos franchise record of .345, set by Vladimir Guerrero in 2000. Only one other player in franchise history has hit .340 or higher, Hubie Brooks in 1986.
Harper is on pace to have the best batting average by a National League player since 2010. Only three of the last 10 winners of the NL batting title have hit above .338.
Harper has been particularly hot over the last 30 days. In 29 games since Aug. 18, Harper has raised his batting average from .326 to .340. Through that stretch he has batted .385 with 10 homers, 19 RBI and a 1.315 OPS.
Nine of those homers have actually come in his last 13 games, something Harper says is a result of being more selective at the plate.
“I just think I’m trying to still have good at-bats and still look for the pitch I want to hit. I’m still walking when I can. I’m swinging at that 2-0 pitch now which I haven’t been in a couple weeks. I’m swinging at that 3-1 again now. That’s been tough because 2-0, I haven’t really got a pitch over the plate to swing at so I’ve just been taking it," he said.
Harper is aware of his numbers, but he insists his focus is primarily on other things. At least for now that is, while the Nats continue to cling to their longshot playoff hopes.
“Everybody’s gonna expect 40 a year every time I play now. 40 homers without a whole lineup I guess all year, that’s the only thing I can say that’s something where I’m pretty proud of myself to be able to have the games, have the walks, have the ability to stay in games and really just do the things I can to help this team win.”