Harper: "I've got to try to be in this lineup every night"

ST. LOUIS - It was a pretty innocuous question, but one that drew an interesting answer.

After the Nationals were eliminated from postseason contention last night, Bryce Harper was asked how much he thinks back to the early part of the season and what could have been different when the Nats struggled to gain momentum and put together any extended period of strong play.

"I wasn't there for a month," Harper replied. "I'm not going to sit here and tell you that I'm a game-changer or anything like that, but we're a great team and me being in this lineup is huge. I've got to try to be in this lineup every night."

Harper might come off a bit cocky there, but the reality is that he's 100 percent right. When healthy, he can be a game-changer, a guy that can win a game with one swing and a guy that forces pitchers to adjust how they face the Nats lineup.

And for too much of this season, Harper hasn't been that guy. He's still played to a pretty darn impressive level, especially when you factor in that he's just 20 and this is still just his second major league season. But his level of play has dropped significantly since he started getting banged up just a month into the season.

Prior to running into the right field wall in Atlanta trying to catch a Tim Hudson home run back on April 30, a collision that left Harper with a badly bruised left side, Harper was batting .344/.430/.720 with nine homers and 18 RBIs in 26 games.

He was playing at an MVP type pace.

After that incident in Atlanta, Harper saw his performance drop off a bit in the next two weeks, leading up to his wall collision in Los Angeles. That was the collision that led to lingering knee issues and limited Harper at least in some ways for much of the rest of the season.

Since the wall collision in L.A., Harper has a .269/.364/.445 slash line with 10 homers and 35 RBIs in 79 games.

Again, pretty solid stuff. But not nearly the numbers that Harper was putting up early in the season, and it's clear that his health played a big part in that.

Harper has needed to miss 43 games this season due to his left knee bursitis and other various bumps and bruises.

Overall, the Nats are 63-51 in games Harper has played this year, a .553 winning percentage. In games Harper has missed, the Nats are just 21-22, a .488 winning percentage.

A more productive bench would have helped limit the impact felt by Harper's absence this season, so we can't look strictly at him when examining these numbers. But it does give you an idea of how much Harper was missed this year when he wasn't in the lineup.

We're all aware of how important Harper is to the Nationals as a whole. And while it was just one comment during a postgame interview, it's important to see Harper acknowledging it, as well.

Harper is a game-changer when he's healthy and in the lineup. And while him being healthy for the full season probably wouldn't have been enough in and of itself to push the Nats to the postseason this year given all the other things that went wrong, it certainly would have helped. Some injuries are unavoidable, but Harper knows that he'll have to do a better job of trying to stay on the field in future seasons.

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