A Glimpse of Things to Come

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Seeing Stephen Strasburg picked to win the Cy Young should come as no surprise to anyone. He did finish 2012 tied with Gio Gonzalez for the best FIP in the majors at 2.82 and led all starters with a staggering 11.13 K/9. There are arguments that can be made that when Stephen Strasburg is pitching he is the best pitcher in the NL and among the best on the planet. The same argument cannot be made for Bryce Harper as an outfielder. Based on stats he finished seventh in the NL in fWAR and tied for eighth in wOBA with Jay Bruce and Garrett Jones. No one is picking Jay Bruce or Garrett Jones for their MVP. In all of the NL Bryce Harper's .352 wOBA ranked sixteenth.

In 2012 Harper was the sixteenth best offensive player in the NL and the seventh best outfielder. While this is impressive for a 19 year old it is not enough to make one think Harper is an MVP candidate. There is name was alongside Joey Votto, Ryan Bruan, Matt Kemp, and Buster Posey as a player people not only thought would be among the best in baseball, but the best in an entire league. It is rare for so many people to pick a player that needs at least a .150 jump in OPS to even be considered, and it is even rarer that said player performs like an MVP on Opening Day.  

For years the Nationals haven't just been under the radar they haven't even been an afterthought, but in winning 98 games in 2012 with two of the highest ceiling players on the planet a lot of the attention of the baseball world has turned towards Washington. Harper likes the spotlight. He will never shy away from being a star and with two homeruns in his first two at bats of 2013 he has made an already bright spotlight even brighter. It is hard to base anything on a player's performance in one game, but Bryce Harper not only handled the added pressure of being expected to contend for an MVP, he shined. Watch the video of his homeruns. Not only did they come on inside breaking balls, pitches Harper struggled against in 2012, but on his second homerun Harper's back foot leaves the ground. He hit the baseball out of the park with his pivot foot off the ground. It could be argued he generated that much torque or one can watch and be amazed.

Just as impressive as Harper taking on higher expectation in 2013 is Stephen Strasburg being unleashed on the world for a full season for the first time and starting off with an 80 pitch performance of seven shutout innings. Strasburg didn't even have his best command falling behind 1-0 on 13 of the 23 batters he faced. Strasburg finished the day with only three strikeouts and no walks giving up only three hits, but this wasn't the dominate swing and miss Strasburg. The majority of outs came on weakly hit ground balls, and with Strasburg falling behind so many batters that is more indicative of a poor approach by the Marlins. With Strasburg being such a feared strikeout pitcher he is going to cause batters to take weak swings just to put something in play early in the count and that might be what was on display against the Marlins or it could be that the Marlins line-up included Juen Pierre, Placido Polanco, and Casey Kotchman. 

It is hard to not be impressed by seven shutout innings however they come about. Strasburg put on a display of imposing his will on the hitter. Even if the strikeouts weren't what fans expected, the results were. Strasburg did run into a little trouble in his seventh and final inning. With Giancarlo Stanton on third base and Polanco on first with one out and Rob Brantly at the plate a medium deep fly ball was hit to Bryce Harper. Stanton attempted to tag, thought better of it, and returned to third. Polanco however did not return to any base and may have been attempting to take second on the throw home, but Harper's throw arrived so quickly to the plate Polanco merely looked lost and was soon caught in a rundown. With Polanco in the rundown Stanton attempted to break for home, but was gunned out by Espinosa to complete the routine 7-2-3-4-2 double play.

That final play of the seventh inning involved both Strasburg and Harper. It was Strasburg's 80th and final pitch that led to the interesting play and Harper's preternatural throwing arm that made it possible. It is rare for two players on the same team to be picked to be Cy Young and MVP in the same season, and it is even more rare that they come out and perform like Cy Young and MVP candidates in the teams very first game. It is a long baseball season with 161 games left to go, but Opening Day was a glimpse of the talent and potential of Strasburg, Harper, and what could be a historic season for the Washington Nationals. 

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