David Huzzard: Too early to judge impact of Harper’s return

Baseball is not a momentum sport. Score 13 one night, 10 the next and then get shut out. The only thing predictable about baseball is that on any given night it is unpredictable. The best player on the team will go 0-for-4, while a fill-in scrub has a career night, and all of this is why no one analyzing the game puts any merit into what happens in one night, one week or even one month.

For three months now, the Nationals have hovered around .500. They struggled in April because Adam LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa all struggled. Since April, LaRoche has hit .304/.392/.518, Zimmerman .294/.377/.498 and Espinosa has been relegated to the minors with Anthony Rendon hitting .315/.361/.427, having taken his place.

In May, the Nationals struggled because they couldn’t get any production out of the corner outfield spots. Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper both spent time injured and eventually on the disabled list, while Nationals left fielders hit .186/.247/.303 and right fielders .195/.286/.350. Since Werth came off the DL on June 4 he has hit .283/.359/.478.

For month-long stretches at a time, key players for the Nationals were in dreadful slumps or missing entirely. Until these last two days, the last time the line-up featured Zimmerman, LaRoche, Werth, and Harper was April 15, and that was during a month in which LaRoche hit .136/.213/.259 and Zimmerman .226/.311/.358. The Nationals have essentially played the entire first half of the season without the lineup they envisioned having for the majority of the season.

When Harper stepped to the plate Monday evening and put a charge into the second pitch he saw, it gave Nationals fans a sense of hope. A sense that the season wasn’t over yet and the Nationals still had time to win this thing. Then, last night, the Nationals got shut out for the ninth time this season and the thought that this was the same old offense came creeping back in. Bad news for those that think that this hasn’t been the same offense since June 8 when Rendon joined a healthy Werth and a productive Zimmerman and LaRoche in the lineup.

For the season, the Nationals rank second-to-last in the National League in runs per game at 3.67, but since June 8, they have averaged 4.33 runs a game - and most of those games are without Harper in the lineup. Over that span, the Nationals have scored more runs and played better baseball, but have still managed to hover around .500 with a 13-11 record in those 24 games.

The Nationals offense should continue on its upward trend with Harper back in the lineup, but it has been for two days. The 10 runs the Nationals scored Monday night are as meaningful and telling as the zero they scored Tuesday night. It is far too early to find any meaning in the stats the Nationals have put up since Harper has been back in the lineup, but in nearly a month with Werth healthy and Rendon at second, the offense has performed at a slightly above-average tick, and it is hard to imagine that adding one of the best young hitters in the game will have anything but a positive effect.

It is too early to know what impact Harper’s return has had on the Nationals offense, but in a month, Nationals fans may look at the offense and think, “Man, these guys can score some runs. Now if we could only get the back of the rotation figured out.”

David Huzzard blogs about the Nationals for Citizens of Natstown, and offers his viewpoints as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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