Maybe Harper’s just “seeing the ball well” right now. Or perhaps he’s so euphoric at reaching the big leagues at 19 that he’s playing on his own private cloud. But, right now, he’s having more impact on more games in more ways than either Cal Ripken or Eddie Murray did when I watched them every day as rookie stars at 21.
On Monday only a great catch stole a two-run double from Harper that probably would’ve put the Nats up 5-4. The bigger the moment or the foe, the more he wants it. Imagine an Albert Pujols line drive homer to left field, gone in a blink. That’s what Harper’s missile off lefty Johnny Venters on Saturday looked like, but to the opposite field.
The central fact about the Nats, with the season a third over in a week, is that they’ve had the best total pitching staff in baseball. And it’s based on pure intimidating stuff, wave after wave of it, which has the Nats No. 1 in ERA, strikeouts, velocity, lowest homers allowed and almost every other stat that indicates dominance. Drill into advanced stats (xFIP yourself silly) or just use your eyes. If the Nats don’t end ’12 ranked No. 1, they’ll be close.
As excellent as Strasburg has been (5-1, 2.64, 70 strikeouts in 58 innings), the Nats’ best pitcher has been Gonzalez. Does he really love, and devour the N.L. this much? Has his “effectively wild” style improved just enough that he is now the most “unhittable pitcher” in baseball? Sure, maybe he’s having a career spring and will revert to his Oakland form, just an all-star. But after Sunday’s win, he led the majors in wins, strikeouts, batting average against and a bunch of other stuff. Nobody is within GPS range of his ridiculous ratio of 79 Ks to just 33 hits. The great Justin Verlander is 75-to-46. Gonzalez is only third in baseball in ERA (2.04). Shame on you, Gio.
Oh, woe, what will the Nats do if they reach the postseason but Strasburg has been shut down for the season? It’d be such a bummer to slog on without Strasburg. Yada, yada. The guy with the whaler whiskers is wonderful. But right now, Gonzalez can start a play-in wild-card game or Game 1 of a division series for anybody.
Maybe this isn’t the year the Nats stick around, get semi-healthy and show up in October — though the idea sure seems to appeal to them. But if they should get there — several Nats, no doubt, with arms in slings while playing the fife — a tribute should be summoned that is appropriate to such an unlikely deed.
Something involving Teddy Roosevelt, bandaged head-to-toe, might do.
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