Entering the 2013 MLB season, perhaps no team garnered as much hype as the Washington Nationals. With a star-studded pitching staff, a deep bullpen and a pair of star hitters, Washington was a favorite to reach the World Series.
With the Nationals in the midst of a major slump, it's imperative that we don't let Bryce Harper take the downfall. He is not the one to blame.
The Nationals are currently 23-23, thus resting a full 5.0 games behind the Atlanta Braves for first place in the NL East. As expected, tensions have been high as Washington continues to struggle, and blame is being placed wherever possible.
"It may not have been a catchable ball, but if we were positioned the right way, there might have been a different outcome. With two outs, I could tell my 4-year-old son, 'You know where you need to play,' and he would have positioned himself better. It's not an excuse, and I'm not speaking badly about anybody, but I think that's how you play the game.''
"Absolutely,'' said Harper, insisting he should have made the catch. "Of course it crosses your mind after you jam into a wall, and it doesn't really feel very good. It sucks not making the play. I totally put that loss on me.''
As mature of a statement as that may be for the 20-year-old right fielder to make, this is about more than one man.
The Nationals may look to one area as a turning point in a specific game, but this has been your quintessential snowball effect. As one player makes a mistake, so too does his teammate and thus the Nationals are in their present predicament.
With that being said, Harper is the last individual we should be targeting for his occasional blunder.
Where Are the Bats?
Thus far in 2013, Bryce Harper is hitting .285/.381/.606 with 12 home runs, 23 RBI and 27 runs scored. Those numbers may be impressive, but Harper's RBI total is both concerning and telling of Washington's greatest issue.
Despite hitting .318 with runners in scoring position, thus driving in 13 runs in 22 opportunities, Harper is on pace for just 79 RBI—and that's on his teammates.
The Nationals currently rank 28th in runs scored and slugging percentage, as well as 29th in batting average and on base percentage. Harper and Ryan Zimmerman are their only two players hitting above .280. Adam Laroche, hitting .219, is second on the team in home runs and third in RBI.
When one of your top power sources can hardly hit the ball, your entire lineup is in trouble.
Until the Nationals start getting on base, nothing Harper and Zimmerman do will be enough to win games. Their contact hitters are disappearing for games on hand, while their power ballers are becoming virtual non-factors.
An unfortunate truth for a team with quite the marvelous pitching staff.
On the surface, the Washington Nationals appear to have one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball. Jordan Zimmerman has an ERA of 1.62, Stephen Strasburg has an ERA of 2.66 and Rafael Soriano has 12 saves.
Just don't let appearances be so deceiving.
Strasburg's ERA has been marred by a lack of run support, and he thus rests at 2-5 on the season. Gio Gonzalez is 3-2, but he's also posting an ERA of 4.01, while Dan Haren is 4-5 with an ERA of 5.54.
Even Ross Detwiler is 2-4 with an ERA of 2.76.
As for the bullpen, Soriano's 12 saves are met with three blown opportunities and reliever Drew Storen has an ERA of 4.67. A lack of run support is of partial blame, but there's something to be said for the pitching staff, as well.
Even when you can't prevent the other team from scoring, looking to your batters isn't a route worth pursuing.
Washington is in complete disarray, and placing the blame on Harper is simply for those in need of a scape goat. This is not to label Harper as the impeccable athlete, but instead to acknowledge the facts.
Everyone in Washington needs to step up and take the blame collectively.