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Bryce Harper: 10 Things We Learned About the Nats' Phenom in Interleague Play

Michael NargiSenior Analyst IOctober 20, 2016

Bryce Harper: 10 Things We Learned About the Nats' Phenom in Interleague Play

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    Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals just wrapped up their interleague schedule by going 10-8 against the American League. Not only did the Nationals show that they can hold their own against the American League, but Harper proved that he is an intricate part of their success in doing so.

    Harper did what he had to do against the AL to keep his team in first place in the NL East. His ability to handle the pressure on the big stage and his persistence to never be intimidated are just a couple of the highlights of Harper's interleague play.

    We learned a lot in Harper's 18 interleague games but not all were positive. There were certain moments of weakness as well, including a five strikeout performance against the New York Yankees

    In the end though, Harper prevailed in interleague, coming out of it with a higher average and showing the American League that the Nats will be a team to be fearful of if they make it to the World Series.

No Stage Is Too Large

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    Harper's first trip to an American League park certainly was eventful. There might not have been a more pressure-packed trip than when Harper went in to Fenway Park, a trip which resulted in a three-game sweep of the Nats.

    How did Harper handle the pressure?

    He went 3-for-5 in the first game with a double, a home run and three RBI. He also scored at least one run in all three games at Fenway.

    This was undoubtedly the biggest stage that he was on in interleague play and he prevailed with a .375 average and .500 on-base percentage in the series.

Hits Better Against the American League

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    It was a small sample but in 18 games against the American League, Harper hit .313 with a .395 on-base percentage. After interleague ended, Harper was hitting .286 with a .367 OBP. 

    Harper did not try to do too much against the opposing league and actually helped raise his average on the season. After the Nats' 15-game stretch against the AL East in June, Harper raised his average 10 points.

Always Ready for a Challenge

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    Facing new teams is always a challenge for any player. Facing a new league entirely is an even bigger challenge. Harper proved to everyone that he is ready for a challenge when he was called up earlier this season despite not playing well in Triple-A.

    Interleague play helped prove once again that he is ready for anything that is thrown at him.

    New league, new ballparks, different styles of play, none of which deterred him during his 18 interleague games. He fought through every challenge that was presented, including his worst game of the year against the Yankees.

He Can Be Shut Down

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    It was not a good series for The Phenom against his favorite team when he was growing up. The Yankees handled Harper, allowing him to hit only .200 against them. He also finished with six strikeouts against them, the most against any opposing team he played.

    Five of those strikeouts came in his worst professional game when he went 0-for-7. Without question the game got to Harper. Harper refused to speak with the media after the game, simply telling them, "I don't want to talk."

    Although Harper was shut down in this series, he proved in the next game that he can put his bad games behind him.

Ability to Rebound

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    Harper put his awful game behind him and responded in the following game against the Yankees. 

    Harper went 2-for-4 with a double in the following game proving that a bad game does not mean a bad stretch for the 19-year-old. Instead of going into a prolonged slump, Harper responded and collected a couple of hits to help him move forward.

That He Is the Rookie of the Year

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    Harper could have taken a plunge playing against the AL but actually did the opposite. After the 18 game stretch it appears that Harper is still the favorite to win the NL Rookie of the Year.

    The effort that he put out during interleague play did nothing but prove that he is worthy of the Rookie of the Year award.

He Will Make Plenty of History Throughout His Career

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    Harper was a part of history at Fenway Park this season. When he hit a home run in his first game at Fenway, he became only the fourth visiting teenager to ever hit a home run at Fenway Park, joining Hall of Famers Robin Yount, Mickey Mantle and Al Kaline. 

    Harper also finished that night with three hits, joining only Ken Griffey, Jr., and Kaline as the only visiting teenagers to have three hits at Fenway in the last 72 years.

    That bit of history is only a fraction of what Harper is capable of doing before his career is over. He took a step in the right direction during interleague play.

That He Is the Future of the Organization

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    Harper proved that this team will be successful for many years to come because of the type of play that he is capable of. Harper showed all of baseball that he has what it takes to play against any teams in baseball and persevere and play hard game in and game out. 

    That type of play will lead this Nationals team for many years to come and Harper is proving that his bat, more so that Stephen Strasburg's arm, will carry this team in the future.

That the Nats Are Playoff Bound

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    Harper and the Nationals played all of their interleague games against the American League East, which has proven over the years to be the superior league in the majors. The Nats stood their own and came away with a winning record in these games.

    As the summer continues, the Nats will be able to use these games as a point of reference when and if they should begin to slump. They can look to these games as motivation to show that if they can handle the AL East, then they can continue to beat up on the NL East in their pursuit to win the division.

    Harper was a huge part of their interleague success and that success might give them the motivation and push that they need when the dog days are upon them.

The Nats Are Legitimate World Series Threats

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    A National League team having success against the American League was rare this year. The Nationals were the only NL first place team at the end of the interleague stretch to have a record over .500 against the AL.

    They also were tied with the Pittsburgh Pirates for the best record in the NL in interleague play, both teams were 10-8.

    If the Nationals can make it to the World Series this season they will not be a pushover to the dominant American League. In fact, they would be a worthy opponent against any team that they face. Can the Nats have the same success without Harper in their lineup?

    It seems unlikely.

    If it comes down to the World Series, Harper might have a lot to say considering all of the things that he has proved and the things he has learned in interleague play.

     

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