When Bryce Harper left the Washington Nationals to join the Philadelphia Phillies, several people assumed that it would be a major setback for an already-struggling franchise. Instead, it appeared to be a wake-up call for the team.
Instead of accepting their predestined fate and letting the rest of the MLB roll them, the Nationals came out with one of their best seasons in years, and in the process, they begged one question. Are the Washington Nationals better without Bryce Harper?
The Bryce Harper led Washington Nationals
Harper was the face of the Washington Nationals for the entirety of his seven-year tenure. After being looked at by a national audience since he was barely old enough to drive, Harper finally took the field when he was 19 years old, and he wasted no time to make his presence felt. Harper’s rookie year saw him hit 22 home runs, bat in 59 runners, and show all the potential that was expected of him.
Individually, Harper’s time with the Nationals spoke for itself. He hit 184 home runs, batted in 521 runs, and hit at a .279 clip. Although there have always been worries about his defense, he showed that he could be a good fielder when he wanted to, although if there was a weak spot, that has been where he has consistently struggled. One would think that having such a generational talent would lead to success, but that is where the Nationals lacked.
The Nationals made it into the playoffs four times during Harper’s tenure there, but they never made it out of the first round. Furthermore, Harper’s production went significantly down in the playoffs.
His batting average in the four series was an abysmal .211, and he only hit five home runs and 10 RBIs for his career in the postseason. This year, however, the Nationals were able to overcome the playoff woes and continue their greatest run in years.
The Washington Nationals were uneasy about paying Harper the kind of money that he was eventually given. Some people chastised the team for being cheap, while others said they understood. Anthony Rendon slid into Harper’s number three spot with ease. With a promising young player in Juan Soto and a fresh look, the Nationals looked good all season. Even if they flew a little bit under the radar in the process.
Soto may have had a better season overall than Harper had in Philadelphia. He hit 34 home runs and batted in 110 runners, all while hitting .282. His work in the left-field was also a vast improvement over Harper’s on-again, off-again defense.
In just his second year, Soto is showing that while he may not have the fanatic following of Harper, he is a cheaper, worthy replacement for the superstar.
Their 93-69 record placed them second in the NL East, and against a scorching hot Dodgers team in the first round, the Nationals proved that regular-season success meant nothing if you couldn’t cut it in October.
The Nationals came back in a thrilling game 5 to put the Dodgers away. The next round, they put away the St. Louis Cardinals in a relatively easy fashion to make it into the World Series.
Are the Washington Nationals better?
One would have to presume that the Nationals are, in fact, better without Harper. After all, they have won two more playoff series without him than they ever did with him.
This result, however, does come with a caveat. Just because the team had a better season without Harper does not mean that the superstar was necessarily holding them back. His absence did help the team come together, with Rendon and Soto leading the way on offense.
Harper had the type of hype that elevates both positive and negative achievements. While we cannot prove that the Nationals would have been worse with him, his absence proved that no team lives and dies on the back of one player. Sometimes, it is better to have a cohesive group and put the team over the individual player