MLB Playoffs: Should the Nationals Drop Bryce Harper to 8th in the Order?

Matthew SmithCorrespondent IIIOctober 8, 2012

Oct 8, 2012; St. Louis, MO, USA; Washington Nationals center fielder Bryce Harper (34) tosses his bat after striking out during the second inning of the 2012 NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-US PRESSWIRE

The Washington Nationals are in fairly good shape in the NLDS.  Although they lost Game 2 of the NLDS by a score of 12-4 to the St. Louis Cardinals, they will travel home for the remainder of the best-of-five series tied at one game apiece. 

Bryce Harper, on the other hand, is not doing so well.

The 19-year-old rookie is off to a dreadful start in the NLDS, going 1-for-10 with no runs, no RBI and six strikeouts.  All told, Harper has been a liability at the top of the order for the Nationals.

So, the question becomes, should Nationals manager Davey Johnson drop Harper down to the eighth spot in the batting order in favor of a guy like Ian Desmond, who is 4-for-8 in the NLDS with two runs scored?

The answer is yes.

Desmond is just the guy to set Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche and Michael Morse up with more RBI opportunities while Harper serves as the bridge at the bottom of the order.

The numbers lend this argument credence.

To begin, Harper’s numbers are negligibly better at home than on the road, while Desmond is a different hitter at Nationals Park.  He is batting 39 points higher (.310 compared to .271) and has seven more home runs and 17 more RBI when the Nationals are in front of their home crowd.

Taking the stats one step further, Desmond has been on a roll since the All-Star break. 

He hit .308 during the second half of the season and saw his average trend upwards, while Harper (though he did have a strong September) batted .260 and went the other direction. 

Furthermore, Desmond’s OBP is a scant .005 points below Harper's, so why not make the move?  At worst, the Nationals would get the same production and at best, it is a series-changing decision.

Benching Harper is out of the question.  He has done too much and is far too good a talent to let sit on the bench, but something can be done to maximize the production from the No. 2 hole and dropping Harper down is the answer.

Much like Johnson’s eighth-inning maneuvering during Game 1, this may be an opportunity for the veteran manager to directly impact the NLDS from the dugout.

This may all seem reactionary, but numbers don’t lie and the postseason is where slumps go to die.

If Johnson makes the move, the Nationals may be hoisting the World Series trophy when this is all done.