Bryce Harper reached base 15 times during Washington’s four-game series with the Cubs this past weekend despite having just one hit.
Then again, that was by design.
Indeed, Harper walked 13 times – an MLB record for a four-game series – and was hit by a pitch. He reached base seven times on Sunday, becoming the first player in the last 100 years to reach base seven times without recording a hit or an official at-bat. The Cubs, however, had the last laugh, sweeping the series to improve to an MLB-best 24-6.
So, what do we make of Chicago’s decision to take the bat out of Harper’s hands?
“I think it’s a brilliant strategy,” former All-Star and World Series champion Ryan Dempster said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “I understand the thought process of wanting excitement and wanting Bryce Harper to swing the bat, especially yesterday. But anytime the game is close, it’s pretty evident you’re not going to let that guy beat you. I think Joe Maddon has been around this before in the 2002 World Series with Barry Bonds. They walked him something like 13 times in the World Series that year, they got out of it and they got a World Series ring. So there has to come a point where you just decide what’s the mot important thing for your ball club?
“Greg Maddux once said to me, ‘As soon as you can learn to pitch without your ego, you’ll win a lot more games,’” Dempster continued. “If you just pitch to the lineup, instead of the players, (you’ll be better off). If Ryan Zimmerman was swinging the bat better coming into the game or if Daniel Murphy is hitting behind Bryce Harper, you might see things a little bit differently. But I think given the circumstances, it’s the right thing to do. You’re trying to put your team in the best position to win a ball game, that’s what they did, and it ended up paying off for them.”
Of course, the Cubs may have been able to sweep the Nationals even without the Harper Walk Party. Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and Jason Hammel all have sub-2.00 ERAs, the offense leads the league in runs, and the bullpen has been lights-out.
Where is the weakness on this squad?
“I think the weakness lies in (not getting) complacent,” said Dempster, now an MLB Network analyst. “They know they have a good team. They were four wins away from going to the World Series last year, and they know that they have a very capable ball club. The got better. They added Jason Heyward, they added John Lackey and they added Ben Zobrist. So these guys understand that they’re good and (they have to) understand that each day is a new day and no matter what our record is right now, it doesn’t reflect what it’s going to be at the end of the season. We got to play each ball game. I think not getting complacent and being mentally tough is the biggest challenge. Obviously staying healthy is a big challenge for any ball club, but when you get off to a start like this – you already have these huge expectations going into the season. Guess what, boys? They just got bigger.”
In fact, some people wonder whether this team could be the greatest of all time.
That’s a little much for Dempster.
“It’s May 9,” he said. “Let’s slow down and let it play out. But they are playing really well and right now there isn’t a weakness. If you really want to get down to the God’s honest truth about it, there isn’t one. The starting pitching’s been great, the bullpen’s been great, the offense has been great, the offense has been incredible, the defense has been spectacular. To be able to have multiple players be able to play multiple positions very well (is a luxury). These guys are very, very good ball players. It’s a lot of fun to be a Cubs fan right now and watch this ball club.”