It started with a question about star outfielder Bryce Harper. The slugging 21-year-old batted a career-low .249 through Aug. 5, smashing only three homers along the way. The significant drop in production fed into rumors that he could be sent to Triple-A in an effort to get him out of the slump. Washington Nationals (71-53) Manager Matt Williams wouldn’t have any more speculation, though. “It’s not fair to the kid, it’s not fair to the rest of the guys in that clubhouse to even think about sending Bryce Harper to the minor leagues, or to cause a stir,” he told reporters Aug. 6. “It’s unacceptable. It won’t happen.”
Harper hit a home run the next night to lead the Nationals past the New York Mets, lighting a fire in the rest of the team. The Nats proceeded to win nine of their next 11 (as of Aug. 20), including five one-run victories and three walk-offs, to build six games of separation between them and the Atlanta Braves at the top of the National League East standings. While the Oakland Athletics and the Detroit Tigers seemingly won the trade deadline by bolstering their already stellar pitching staffs, the Nationals trusted their rotation and waited for their big slugger to find his groove. That faith and patience could pay off come October.