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Thoughts on Harper's message to Nats fans calling for more support

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Thoughts on Harper's message to Nats fans calling for more support

The question was simply about the pennant race atmosphere at Nationals Park, and Bryce Harper's answer was brief. But his quick, perhaps off-the-cuff response has set off a firestorm of scrutiny both from outside the city of Washington and within the Nationals fanbase itself.

Harper, when asked about the crowd on Monday afternoon, noted how many of the 34,210 in attendance left after the seventh inning. "That's pretty brutal," he said.

This just happens to come on the heels of Jonathan Papelbon referencing a lack of energy among the Nats faithful during Friday night's win over the Braves.

“I got a little bone to pick with some of the fans here tonight. I saw a few of them sitting down. I’m not going to lie. We need to stand on up in those situations. So let’s get that going, you know what I mean? Because this is playoff baseball," he said after the victory.

Those are two of the biggest names on the Nationals - their best player and their closer - essentially calling out the fans who root for them.

First, on Harper's comments. In fairness, his observation was correct. After the Nationals saw four relievers combine to allow three runs to the Mets in the seventh inning, thousands in the stands cleared out. It was a mass exodus of sorts.

But, for what it's worth, many of the fans who left were sitting on the first base side, or the part of the stadium that had been baking in the sun all afternoon. The departure of so many fans was noticeable from the pressbox in large part due to its symmetry. One third or so of the stadium was nearly empty during the eighth and ninth innings, while the rest of it was packed.

Could that be a coincidence? Possibly. But I did have Nats fans reach out on Twitter in support of that theory and some said they were sitting on that side before moving to the shaded concourse to watch the rest of the game.

And though many left after giving up hope for a comeback, there were 34,210 there to begin with. That's actually about a thousand more than what the team has averaged this season (33,109), a mark that is good for 10th in baseball.

Of course, it wasn't the quantity of fans that Harper and Papelbon, it was the manner of their support. And, love him or hate him, Papelbon of all people would know.

The right-hander made his name while pitching for the Boston Red Sox, who not only played some pretty big games while he was there, they lifted a fanbase that had been through decades of disappointment to new heights. The feeling of a pennant race at Fenway Park, especially in the first few years of Papelbon's Red Sox career, would be hard to replicate, especially in a town that is relatively new to the experience.

As we outlined in our previews leading up the Nats' series with the Mets, this is the first time in team history the Nationals have been playing games this late in the season with such high stakes. They are going head-to-head with the team they are chasing in the division with only a handful of games separating them. Each of these games can either help close the gap in the NL East, or create distance and put them one step closer to missing the playoffs.

This is the first pennant race not only for the Nationals, but for generations of sports fans who call Washington, D.C. home. A major league pennant race is its own, unique thing. Sure, the Redskins have had do-or-die Week 17 games where their postseason hopes rested on a handful of plays. The Capitals have fought for their playoff lives in April, and so have the Wizards. But those are all different than the highs and lows of an MLB pennant race when every single day can change so much.

For Harper, in particular, to say what he said speaks volumes. It's one thing for Papelbon to ask for more from the fans. It would be another thing for a tenured veteran like Jayson Werth or Ryan Zimmerman to say it. But coming from Harper, who is not only their best player but an emerging face of the sport, it carries a special kind of weight.

This is actually not the first time Harper has done this. Late in the 2013 season he made a plea in his then-weekly sitdown with CSN for more support as the team was chasing the Braves. Excitement for the football season was heating up and Harper sensed a fade in loyalty.

"Coming to a game without any fans isn't fun. Last night we didn't have that many, and we need that for this last month," Harper said at the time. "I think it's tired, I really do. Just because football season's coming up, we're still in it."

Harper further explained it by saying, "I think fans know that guys feed off the crowd." It was a message he wanted to get across, and Monday's comments were likely coming from the same place.

Criticizing your fans is always a risky proposition, but maybe there is an intent behind his words just like there was last time, a call to action that apparently he isn't alone in believing is necessary.

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3 Up, 3 Down: Allow Juan Soto to distract you from Bryce Harper

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USA TODAY

3 Up, 3 Down: Allow Juan Soto to distract you from Bryce Harper

Nationals fans are teetering on the edge. 

On one hand, the Nats are 3.5 games out of first place after a 10-week span full of injuries and underperformance. The team just acquired All-Star closer Kelvin Herrera, and their 19-year-old left fielder looks like an All-Star already. 

On the other hand, doom is imminent. The Monstars stole Bryce Harper's abilities at some point over the last three weeks, Steven Strasburg can't stay healthy, and the offense is pushing everyone's patience to the limit. 

So who's overperforming? Who's underperforming? Who's out there just trying their very best? LET'S LIST. 

Three Up

1. Juan Soto

Our large young son Juan continues to impress. He's now hitting .325/.411/.602 with a 1.013 OPS in 95 plate appearances over 25 games. That means we're mercifully starting to leave the 'fluky start' narrative behind. He's been the best hitter on the Nationals by a wide margain since he got called up - although that's perhaps more of an indicitment on the rest of the lineup than it is on Soto. Still, in less than a month he's probably earned the starting left field spot for the rest of the summer. Not bad. 

2. Justin Miller

Miller is 31, on his third team in four years, and owns a career ERA north of 4.50. Despite all of this, Miller's been the best reliever in baseball since coming up for the Nats. Of relief pitchers with at least 10 innings pitched (we hear your sample size comment and are not going to acknolwdge it), no one has a better FIP than Miller (0.64). He's striking out over half of the batters he sees and has yet to walk a single person this year. All the elite relief pitchers are already at 30-40 innings pitched, so Miller has a while to go before these stats mean a whole lot. If he stays even 75 percent as good as he's started, the Nats' bullpen looks scary. 

3. Michael A. Taylor

Have yourself a week or two, Michael A.! The centerfielder is slashing .500/.556/.583 over the last 14 days, the first of many "Maybe He Put It Together?!" runs we'll see from him this year. He also has six stolen bases during that span, more than anyone else on the team. His plate discipline has been better over the last two weeks, with a BB% a shade over 11 percent - only behind Juan Soto for highest on the team. Juan Soto, man. 

Three Down

1. Bryce Harper

A couple things here. We'll start with the admission that Bryce Harper is obviously not having a superb year. We've already briefly touched on why looking at only his batting average is a lazy way of judging his season, and we stand by that. With that said - Harper's had a bad season. The last month has been particularly painful. There's no way of dressing up a .189/.278/.400 slashline over the last 30 days. Still, his contact has been as great as his luck terrible - there's a positive regression coming, we promise. 

2. Pedro Severino 

And you think Harper's been slumping?? Over the same 30 days, Severino has hit .098/.179/.115 with a .294 OPS. He's essentially daring the Nats to put together a trade package for JT Realmuto at this point. He has six hits over his last 68 plate appearances and five of them are singles. 

3. Shawn Kelley

Kelley owns a 6.09 FIP and a 4.32 ERA over the last month (10 games, 8.1 innings pitched). He's walking close to nine percent of the hitters he's faced during that time. He has a 12.5 HR/FB over the last month. With the trade for Kelvin Herrera and the sudden emergence of Justin Miller, Kelley's role going forward isn't quite as clear anymore. 

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National League All-Star Game Roster Projection: How it will all break down

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USA Today Sports

National League All-Star Game Roster Projection: How it will all break down

In less than a month, the 2018 MLB All-Star game will take place at Nationals Park.

There are plenty of details that still need ironing out, but none are more important than the 64 players that will be taking the field at the Midsummer Classic.

Surely the Washington Nationals are hoping that many of their hometown stars will make the cut.

So, lets clear the air. How are the MLB All-Star rosters created? Well it is a combination of the fan vote, the player ballots, and the MLB Commissioners Office. No, it is not a 33-33-33 split, but rather a political (yet fair) process. Here is how it shakes out for there to be 32 players on each team:

  • Fan vote: eight position players in NL/ nine in AL (DH); plus final vote for each league
  • Player’s ballots: next 16 players in NL; 17 players in AL (five starting pitchers, three relievers must be chosen)
  • MLB Commissioner’s Office: seven NL players (four pitchers, three position players) and five AL players (four pitchers, one position player)

Keep in mind, the MLB Commissioner’s Office merely is just there to ensure that there is one representative from all 30 MLB teams. Additionally, the player’s ballots are generally in-line with statistics and name recognition.

So let’s see how this shakes out for the National League All-Star Game roster. This factors in the latest fan vote returns:

National League All-Star Roster Projection:

C – Buster Posey, Giants (Fan Vote), Wilson Contreras, Cubs (Player Ballot)
1B – Freddie Freeman, Braves (Fan Vote), Jose Martinez, Cardinals (Player Ballot), Justin Bour, Marlins (Commissioner’s Office)
2B – Ozzie Albies, Braves (Fan Vote), Scooter Gennett, Reds (Player Ballot)
3B – Nolan Arenado, Rockies (Fan Vote), Kris Bryant, Cubs (Player Ballot)
SS – Brandon Crawford, Giants (Fan Vote), Chris Taylor, Dodgers (Player Ballot)
OF – Nick Markakis, Braves (Fan Vote), Bryce Harper, Nationals (Fan Vote), Matt Kemp (Fan Vote), Albert Almora Jr., Cubs (Player Ballot), Charlie Blackmon, Rockies (Player Ballot), Corey Dickerson, Pirates (Player Ballot), David Peralta, Diamondbacks (Commissioner’s Office), Christian Yelich (Commissioner’s Office)

SP – Max Scherzer, Nationals (Player Ballot), Sean Newcomb, Braves (Player Ballot), Jon Lester, Cubs (Player Ballot), Aaron Nola, Phillies (Player Ballot), Jacob deGrom, Mets (Player Ballot), Mike Foltynewicz, Braves (Commissioner’s Office)

RP – Brad Hand, Padres (Player Ballot), Sean Doolittle, Nationals (Player Ballot), Josh Hader Brewers (Player Ballot), Wade Davis, Rockies (Commissioner’s Office), Kenley Jansen (Commissioner’s Office), Jeremy Jeffress (Commissioner’s Office)

Manager: Dave Roberts, Dodgers

After this, there will be one more player chosen by another fan vote. The MLB Commissioner’s Office, along with the manager, choses five players to be selected in the penultimate vote. 

This puts three Nationals on the All-Star team with the Braves leading the charge with five selections.

Now of course nothing ever goes to plan, but heck its baseball, not everyone will be happy.

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