Expectations for Bryce Harper were kept within reason following his recall by the Washington Nationals because he wasn't tearing the cover off the ball in Triple-A. His terrific performance, however, allows the surprising Nationals to feel confident despite an injury to Jayson Werth.
Werth suffered a broken wrist in the team's loss to the division rival Philadelphia Phillies last night, according to the Associated Press. William Ladson of MLB.com reports he will miss more than six weeks, and possibly as much as three months, if not more.
Following a disappointing 2011 season, Werth was showing signs of being the player the Nationals were hoping he'd be when they gave him $126 million. The outfielder had three home runs and his on-base percentage was .372, 42 points higher than last year.
Normally losing a reliable run producer would be a deathblow to an offense that ranks 27th in runs scored. That's especially true when you consider how many other injuries Washington has been dealing with already.
Luckily for the Nationals, star third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche are both due back soon to help pick up the slack. Michael Morse should also be back within a couple weeks if he can avoid another setback.
While getting those three players back will provide a nice boost, it's really the emergence of Harper that allows the Nationals to feel like they can still produce runs without Werth.
Not only has Harper hit well—.924 OPS and three RBIs in eight games—but he's also brought a lot of youthful exuberance to the team that has impacted his teammate and the fanbase in a positive way. He's fun to watch, plain and simple.
That was on full display Sunday when he stole home against Cole Hamels after the Phillies star plunked him. He proceeded to go first to third on a hit and scored when Hamels threw a lackadaisical pick-off throw to first base.
When he first got called up, there was a lot of talk about his time with the Nationals only being a brief cameo until Zimmerman returned. Harper had to have heard all that speculation and has played like a person who doesn't want to spend another day in the minor leagues.
The 19-year-old phenom hasn't stopped hustling in his eight games, likely securing his spot on the roster even before Werth went down. Now he's surely here to stay.
Washington currently sits atop the NL East with a 18-10 record, which ties for the best record in the National League with the Los Angeles Dodgers. That's mostly due to a dominant pitching staff led by fellow future superstar Stephen Strasburg.
With Harper giving the offense a shot in the arm and the return of a couple more pieces, it's safe to say the Nationals are a threat to end Philadelphia's five-year run atop the division even without Werth for awhile.
Call it the Harper Effect.