Washington Nationals @ Miami Marlins Series Preview: Will Bryce Harper Win The Home Run Derby?


Jul 11, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Washington Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper (34) adjusts his hair as he waits for his cap and glove after being tagged out at home plate during the first inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins will wrap the unofficial end of their first half with a series against the Washington Nationals this weekend. To preview the series between the Marlins and Nats, I had an email chat with Andrew Flax, the editor for the Washington Nationals Fansided Site, District on Deck. DoD does a phenomenal job of covering everything surrounding the Nationals team.

Andrew and I chatted about everything from the chances Bryce Harper wins the home run derby if the Nationals can make a second half run to overtake the Atlanta Braves.

As part of the chat, I answered some questions for Andrew as well, you can find them here.

Without any further ado, here is my chat with Andrew:

Jul 7, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg (37) throws during the third inning against the San Diego Padres at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Ehsan Kassim: Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg have struggled with injuries in 2013, are both of them at full health right now?

Andrew Flax: Completely. Harper was a bit shaky coming back from his knee injury, going 0-20 after his straight-off-the-DL homer and looking uncomfortable in the field, but he’s back now. He’s 7-17 (.412) with four walks in five games since breaking that slide. Strasburg’s injury was a minor side strain and after missing the minimum 15 days, he hasn’t seemed to have any trouble. He allowed four earned runs in his last start, but had allowed two or fewer runs in nine consecutive starts before that.

EK: Is the Nationals roster good enough to make a second half run to overtake the Braves? Or are they going to need to make some moves at the trade deadline?

AF: Is the roster good enough to overtake the Braves? Unquestionably. This team is more talented than the one that won 98 games last year. But are they playing like it? Not really, but more so recently. Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, and Wilson Ramos have put a spark back into an offense that was 29th in baseball in runs scored: just ahead of you guys. Denard Span has been the main offensive problem, hitting just .260 despite being a .282 career hitter, and hitting .154 against lefties even though he hit over .300 against them in 2012. However, his defense makes up for it somewhat. He won’t be replaced.

On the pitching side, the main problem is Dan Haren. He had baseball’s worst ERA, at 6.15, when he went on the DL. He was vaguely better in his return, allowing two runs in five innings. The Nationals have said they liked what they saw in his return and plan to go forward with him, but I’m not sure how trustworthy he is. The Nats have lost nine straight of his starts, and cannot make a playoff run without massive improvement on his part. The bench has also been trouble, with three hitters (Tyler Moore, Chad Tracy, and Roger Bernadina) hitting under .200 after they had such success last year. Moore has been replaced with Scott Hairston, who hit under .200 with the Cubs, but was laughably unlucky, with baseball’s worst BABIP by far. Davey Johnson has said he would like another bench bat, and if that bat replaces Tracy, the Nats will be better for it, while Bernadina is mainly a defensive replacement. The Nats should be able to make a run with their current roster, but if players keep struggling, a bench bat and a starter would go a long way towards helping this team.

Jul 10, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Washington Nationals pitcher Rafael Soriano (29) delivers to the plate during the ninth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. The Nationals defeated the Phillies 5-1. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

EK: How do you think the Nationals did in both the MLB Draft and during the International signing period, thus far?

AF: I think it’s tough to say the Nats had a “good” draft or international signing period, given how limited they were. Since they had baseball’s best record in 2012, they had the smallest international pool and the 30th pick in each round of the draft. In addition to those limitations, they forfeited their first round pick to add Rafael Soriano this offseason. The Nats like to think they used their first round pick on Soriano, and a closer with 24 saves and a 2.19 ERA is a pretty good pick. As for actual draft prospects, they did alright for not selecting until 68th overall.

Their first pick, Jake Johansen, has a perfect pitcher’s frame and can touch 99, but got lit up in his minor conference. The Nats maintain they can fix his mechanical struggles, and his time in short-season A ball have been interesting. He has allowed just one run and two hits while striking out eight in 8.2 innings over three appearances, giving him a sparkling 1.04 ERA, but he has walked eight batters as well. He is a work in progress, to say the least. The Nats also liked some power bats they got, like 3rd rounder 3B Drew Ward from an Oklahoma high school, 6th rounder 3B Cody Gunter from a Texas community college, and 7th rounder 1B Jimmy Yezzo from the University of Delaware. On the international side of things, the Nats have been heavily connected to one prospect: Anderson Franco, a 3B who Baseball America ranks as the 29th best international prospect. The Nats are very likely to sign him, but he is not eligible to sign until he turns 16 on August 15th. Assuming they sign him, their international signing period will be a great success.

EK: How will Bryce Harper do in the home run derby? Think the pick of Michael Cuddyer will hold the NL back from winning?

AF: I think Harper will win from the NL side, if not take the overall crown. He’s the best pure power hitter on the team, with CarGo having played half his games at Coors and Wright and Cuddyer not even being power hitters anyway. I don’t think Cuddyer holds the team back, I think both Cuddyer and Wright hold it back. They have career highs of 32 and 33 homers respectively. Both are excellent all around hitters, to be sure, but  not sluggers.

EK: Can you give us a quick preview of the pitchers the Fish will face this series?

AF: Strasburg you know. He’s just 5-6, but that’s because he’s near the bottom in run support. He has a 2.45 ERA and 1.06 WHIP. He has a deadly arsenal of swing-and-miss stuff, and I firmly believe he should have been an All-Star. He is the best pitcher on the Nats right now, though Zimmermann and Gio give him a run for his money. You’re very lucky you’re missing those two.

Haren is one of the worst pitchers in baseball, but he worked on his repertoire while on the DL. You wouldn’t know it from his Philly start, but he claims to be better so only time will tell.

Taylor Jordan is one of the most interesting stories of the Nats season. He started the year in High A, a 24-year-old in his first season after Tommy John surgery. He compiled a 1.24 ERA in six High A starts, so he was promoted to Double A. He got even better there, with a 0.83 ERA in eight starts. When Dan Haren went down, he was the logical callup to replace him. He has been decent in his three starts, with a 3.45 ERA, but hasn’t gone a full six innings yet. He has major league stuff, no doubt about it, and is a fan favorite simply for his compelling story and the potential his minor league numbers suggest.

EK: Any bold predictions for the series?

AF:  I predict that the Nationals will win Dan Haren’s start. That’s as bold as it gets for the Nats, especially since he’ll go against Jose Fernandez.

A big thank you to Andrew for taking his timeout to talk to us. We at Marlin Maniac wish all Nationals fans the best of luck in the upcoming series. If you get a chance, do check out some of the great content over on District on Deck.