Bryce Harper's Return Will Be Too Little, Too Late for Floundering Nationals

Chris Stephens@@chris_stephens6Correspondent IIJune 20, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 04:  Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals watches play from the dugout during a game against the New York Mets at Nationals Park on June 4, 2013 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Bryce Harper looks ready to return to the Washington Nationals. But even when he does return, it will be too little, too late for the floundering team.

Harper returned to the batting cage Thursday and could go on a rehab assignment soon, according to Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post.

Davey says Bryce Harper will hit in the cage today, "so he's close." Still no precise timetable for rehab assignment, etc.

— Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP) June 20, 2013

The Nationals are currently 36-36 and 6.5 games back in the NL East. When he was in the lineup, they were 25-19, including 10-8 against teams in the division.

Most Nationals fans will say that adding the best player on the team will bring more wins. But will it be enough to overtake the Atlanta Braves?

The way things are going right now, there will be seven other teams from the NL Central and NL West competing for the two wild-card spots (as well as their division). Obviously, there will be only five other teams to compete with since two will take division titles, but that's still a lot to overcome.

The Playoff Contenders

Outside of Atlanta, the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds, San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres are in the playoff hunt. 

Against those seven teams, the Nationals are 11-12. The next seven games are against Colorado and Arizona, with 13 games to go the rest of the year against the others.

The Nationals and Braves will still meet for nine more games, but not until Aug. 5. Of course, the Miami Marlinswhom the Nationals still have 13 games against, are in the division. However, the Braves still have 16 games with the bottom-feeders of the division.

Add in the fact that the Nationals only have a winning record against the Marlins in the division, and you have trouble.

Lack of Support

There's no questioning what Harper can bring to the table, but he doesn't get much support from the rest of the team.

Adam LaRoche is starting to come around and is now hitting .250 with 10 home runs and 32 RBI. Ryan Zimmerman is also doing well with a .267 average to go along with eight home runs and 33 RBI.

Outside of those two, there is not much coming from the other five starters.

Combined, Danny Espinosa, Kurt Suzuki, Ian Desmond, Denard Span and Jayson Werth are hitting .241 with 22 home runs, 99 RBI, 52 doubles and 102 runs scored.

Without more support from those five, Harper isn't going to be Washington's saving grace.

Pitching-wise, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez can't catch any breaks, and Ross Detwiler and Dan Haren continue to struggle.

The bullpen is also looking better, but success still begins and ends with the offense.

The Nationals will only be as good as their bats.

While Harper does bring a lot to the table, the others around him have to pick it up. If they don't, they will be at home watching the postseason.

I don't see them coming back to make the playoffs, but who knows?

They proved the doubters wrong last year and could do the same this year.


    Trout's Bases-Clearing Knock Helps Angels to Beat D-Backs

    MLB logo

    Trout's Bases-Clearing Knock Helps Angels to Beat D-Backs

    Washington Post
    via Washington Post

    Herrera Arrives in DC, Makes Perfect Debut in 8th

    Washington Nationals logo
    Washington Nationals

    Herrera Arrives in DC, Makes Perfect Debut in 8th

    via MLB

    Rays Stop Astros Win Streak at 12

    MLB logo

    Rays Stop Astros Win Streak at 12

    Joseph Zucker
    via Bleacher Report

    Clevinger K's 10 to Stay Hot as Tribe Beats Sox

    MLB logo

    Clevinger K's 10 to Stay Hot as Tribe Beats Sox

    Chicago Sun-Times
    via Chicago Sun-Times