The Chicago Cubs pulled off an impressive sweep of the Washington Nationals over the weekend to move to an MLB-best 24-6.
The Cubs and manager Joe Maddon utilised an eyebrow-raising move during Sunday’s 4-3, 13-inning win by opting to intentionally walk Harper several times.
In doing so, Harper set an MLB record by reaching base seven times without recording an official at-bat, as Harper was walked six times and hit by a pitch once. He was walked 13 total times during the four-game series.
The method worked. Twice, Harper was walked with two men on and two outs, and Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman left them stranded, as he batted just 2-of-19 during the series.
As Deadspin’s Tom Ley states, it’s going to be an interesting move going forward for the Nationals and the rest of MLB. Unless Nationals manager Dusty Baker is willing to reshape the batting order to give Harper more support, the rest of the league is incentivized to walk Harper, too. The seemingly obvious solution would be to move Daniel Murphy and his absurd .395 batting average to fourth in the order, behind Harper, but teams generally don’t like to have lefties bat consecutively.
Maddon explained the logic behind walking Harper after Sunday’s game, saying, “Why tempt fate like that? If the other guy gets you, that’s fine. I have no problem with that whatsoever. … I know he’s [Harper] not as hot as he can be coming into this series, but you don’t want to get him hot.”
Harper met the intentional walks with a smirk, appearing to say, “Alright.”
Being intentionally walked is a compliment of sorts, but it can also lead to frustration. As Ley also notes, it will be interesting to see how Harper reacts if other teams continue the strategy. Harper is just 23 and coming into his own as a hitter. There could be a psychological effect for a young hitter to keep getting taken out of the game, just as he’s getting a handle on being one of the league’s best hitters.
Unless Baker and the Nationals reconfigure their lineup, there’s incentive for other MLB teams to copy the Cubs’ strategy.
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