Stephen Strasburg Leads 5 National League Players Who Need to Have a Big Week

Ian CasselberryMLB Lead WriterAugust 6, 2012

Stephen Strasburg Leads 5 National League Players Who Need to Have a Big Week

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    For this week's batch of National League players who need a good run of success, we're mostly looking at players who are getting an opportunity now that their teams are out of contention. These prospects will likely have the next two months to prove their merit, but getting off to a good start certainly wouldn't hurt their cause. 

    But it's not all about prospects on this week's list. We're also including two names from playoff contenders that appear to be dragging through the dog days of summer and may need a boost. 

    How will these players respond to adversity? Will they bounce back or fall into a funk when things aren't going their way? Sometimes, a player reveals something about himself after some prosperity as well. Will he become too easily self-satisfied and let up, or stay focused and remember what had to be done to achieve that success?

    Here are five National League players who need to have a good week. Whether or not they come through could play a major influence on their respective teams' fortunes. 

Domonic Brown, Philadelphia Phillies

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    No one benefited more from the Philadelphia Phillies' trade deadline sell-off than Domonic Brown.

    After a couple of false starts to his major league career and losing out on the left field job to Juan Pierre in spring training, Brown finally gets an opportunity to show he can be a starting outfielder for the Phillies.

    It's only been six games thus far, but Brown has initially shown he's ready to show his skills. In 20 plate appearances, he's hit .278/.350/.333. The Phillies would surely love to see some more power, though that's never been a huge part of Brown's game. Perhaps that will come now that he's making some contact. 

    As CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury points out, however, Brown needs to make a positive impression with his defense. Playing a poor left field is the primary reason he was sent down to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Has he improved enough to warrant regular playing time in the outfield?

    This also allows the Phillies to showcase him for a possible trade, maybe to help get the centerfielder and third baseman that the team needs. A change of scenery and different organization (perhaps to an American League team that can use him as a designated hitter) might be what ultimately best suits Brown.

    Plenty of teams could use a left-handed bat that can get on base and show a little speed. The Phillies are among them, of course. 

Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves

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    We might be a little bit late on this one. Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez gave Martin Prado a night off after going 0-for-5, hitting into two double plays and committing an error in left field on Aug. 1.

    That dropped Prado's batting average to .298 and his OPS to .774, the lowest those marks have been since May 14. 

    Since getting that breather, however, Prado is 4-for-10 with two doubles and an RBI. So maybe he's already having his good week. 

    Prado's struggles underlined the need for a reserve right-handed outfielder, which the Braves acquired in Reed Johnson. Johnson subbed for Prado and went 1-for-3 batting in the No. 2 spot on Aug. 2. He's going to be an important pickup that can keep Prado, Michael Bourn and Jason Heyward fresh in August and September. 

    The refreshed Prado is back at .300 with his batting average and a .785 OPS. But will he need another rest again soon, or was the one night off enough to restore Prado's bat speed and legs in the outfield? The Braves should find out in the coming week. 

Josh Vitters, Chicago Cubs

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    Hey, Josh Vitters just got called up to the major leagues by the Chicago Cubs. Shouldn't he get to settle in before some baseball blogger says he needs to have a good week? 

    Yes, Vitters has all of one major league plate appearance, flying out to left field while pinch-hitting for reliever Scott Maine in Sunday's (Aug. 5) loss to the Dodgers.

    But this is a prime time for the Cubs, team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer to find out if prospects like Vitters can be part of the future and help rebuild the major league product on the field.

    Third base had been filled by stopgap players like Ian Stewart, Luis Valbuena and Jeff Baker all season. Maybe Vitters isn't the answer. Perhaps it's Javier Baez. But Vitters deserves the shot after his season with Triple-A Iowa, during which he batted .304/.356/.513 with 17 home runs and 68 RBI. 

    As the Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer writes, the big concern with Vitters is his defense at third base. Initially, that's going to hold him back from getting regular playing time as Cubs manager Dale Sveum is going to play Vitters against left-handed pitching until his defense earns a full-time role. 

    I'm not exactly sure how a player is supposed to get better in the field if you limit the chances he gets on defense, but maybe dangling a carrot in front of Vitters is the right approach here. 

Matt Harvey, New York Mets

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    Rookie Matt Harvey is not going to be pulled from the New York Mets' starting rotation after one bad start. That would be a terrible way to handle a young pitcher, making him feel as if he can't make a mistake. 

    But after giving up five runs and eight hits (two of them home runs) on Sunday (Aug. 5) in a 7-3 loss to the San Diego Padres at Petco Park, Harvey needs to show manager Terry Collins and general manager Sandy Alderson how he can rebound from a bad start.

    Will he let this one linger, leading to a slump, or will he show some mental toughness by coming right back against a Braves team that might give him his toughest matchup he's faced thus far? 

    Judging from his postgame remarks (as quoted by ESPN New York's Adam Rubin), Harvey knows what went wrong against the Padres and what he can't get away with against major league hitters.

    “When I tried to go away, it was either six inches away or six inches middle,” Harvey said. “It was one of those days where I couldn’t find the strike zone. And when I did, it was not quality. 

    Furthermore, Harvey realizes a flaw in his mechanics that he made during the game, according to The Star-Ledger's Andy McCullough. Keeping his back leg strong during his delivery made the difference in locating his fastball. 

    Harvey will get a chance to implement those observations in another five days. 

Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

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    Putting Stephen Strasburg on this list after he pitched six scoreless innings and allowed three hits against the Miami Marlins on Sunday (Aug. 5) might seem crazy. Strasburg doesn't need to have a good week after a performance like that.

    However, during the second half of the season, Strasburg has alternated good starts with bad starts.

    In his first start after the All-Star break, he shut out the Marlins for another six innings. (Strasburg may just own that team at this point.) But he followed that up by giving up four runs, eight hits and three walks in 5.1 innings versus the Braves.

    Next time out, Strasburg held the Mets to one run and four hits over seven innings with seven strikeouts. But in his start after that, he had his worst outing of the season, as the Phillies lit him up for six runs and eight hits in less than five innings. 

    After shutting down the Marlins, Strasburg looks like he's back on track. But how will he look in his next start?

    Will he get knocked around again, showing the inconsistency typical of a pitcher tiring out in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery? Is he dealing with more of a mental obstacle, as MASN.com's Dan Kolko writes, trying to be too fine against major league hitters rather than just sticking with his game plan? 

    Strasburg's next start could be a telling one. How will he fare against an Arizona Diamondbacks team that hasn't seen him this season? 

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