Last night, Harper smacked a two-run homer, stole a base and drove in an insurance run with a triple in the ninth inning. In the process, he became just the second teenager in major league history to hit 20 home runs, behind only Tony Conigliaro who hit 24 in 1964, and now is the first teenager ever with 17-plus homers and at least 17 stolen bases in a season.
Does any of that mean anything to Harper? Is reaching the 20-home run mark in his rookie season significant in his mind?
“I like those 93 runs a lot better,” Harper said.
Interesting. Harper leads the Nationals in runs scored and ranks first among National League rookies in that category. In his eyes, getting to 100 runs would be meaningful because it indicates he’s doing the job of a strong two-hole hitter - not just driving in runs, but also setting the table for the guys behind him.
“Absolutely,” Harper said. “Being on base for all the guys to drive me in, just being key in that respect and getting the momentum going early, doing things on the basepaths, I think that’s huge.”
Switching gears, while manager Davey Johnson has not yet publicly declared the 25 guys he’ll carry on his postseason roster, he did discuss the basic framework of what we can expect to see when the Nats begin the playoffs.
Assuming the Nationals go on to clinch the NL East, Johnson will likely carry four starting pitchers, eight relievers and 13 position players. Carrying only four starters will allow the Nats to keep an extra guy in the bullpen - almost certainly Christian Garcia.
Sometimes, teams wait to decide who they’ll play in a particular round of the playoffs before determining their roster, allowing the manager to play various matchups. But Johnson doesn’t expect to do much tinkering with the 25 guys he carries.
“If the team is put together pretty balanced, like this team is, you don’t have to do that,” Johnson said. “You’re not trying to get heavy (with lefties or righties) one way or another because you like your balance the way it is. And I pretty much like the balance we’ve had all year, on the bench and in the bullpen.”
One theory in the postseason is that teams don’t need as many long relievers because they’re rarely thinking about saving the bullpen or having one guy eat innings in the playoffs. Using a long-reliever in a blowout is more of a big-picture strategy in the regular season in order to keep other relievers fresh, but in the postseason, the focus is completely on the short-term.
Using that logic, some teams leave a long reliever off their playoff roster in order to carry one more bench player. Johnson, however, says that a guy like Tom Gorzelanny could be more valuable than an extra position player, who might just languish on the bench.
“I don’t have any platoon situations in there and I don’t have anybody I’m going to be pinch hitting for,” Johnson said. “So I don’t need a big bench. More times than not, you need that extra pitcher. So I will always lean, with this ballclub, (towards the pitchers). I’ve had clubs in the past where I’ve had a couple situations where I’d be platooning and you might need an extra player instead of the pitcher. It all just depends on the ballclub.”
Johnson seems to feel that there’s some value to having a speedster like Eury Perez on a postseason roster, a guy who can come in and swipe a bag in a key spot. But Roger Bernadina has good speed, as well, and can serve in a pinch-running capacity if need be.