Nationals report

Harper getting back on track

Nationals rookie outfielder Bryce Harper endured a rough summer as big league pitchers finally began adjusting to him after a red-hot start to his career. After seeing one breaking ball after another on the outside corner of the plate, his batting average was at .248 and his on-base percentage bottomed out at .319 after an Aug. 28 game at Miami.

But the last 16 games have been much better for the 19-year-old. He is 23-for-61 (.377) with seven home runs and 13 RBIs since that 9-0 loss to the Marlins. That torrid stretch includes 11 extra-base hits with eight walks to just 10 strikeouts. Harper this week even found a way to hit Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, who had owned him earlier this season. He went 4-for-5 with three of the hits off Dickey in a Tuesday victory in New York.

It's a good sign for an offense that has been rolling in recent weeks, but that may be without slugger Michael Morse for a week or more as he continues to rest a sore wrist. Harper has a 1.178 OPS and .723 slugging percentage in September.

MLB storylines


Padres no pushovers »

On Aug. 18 the San Diego Padres were 52-70 and well on their way to a last-place finish in the NL West. They looked like the perfect September patsy for potential playoff teams like the Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals and division rivals San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers. All of those teams had series scheduled with San Diego. All of them probably wish that wasn't the case. The Padres are 17-6 since that date. They took two of three games from the Braves and the Dodgers, swept St. Louis and end the year with 12 straight games against the Dodgers, Giants and Milwaukee Brewers.


Welcome back into the race » The NL wild-card contenders haven't exactly been embracing opportunity in recent days. The St. Louis Cardinals were swept at San Diego. The Los Angeles Dodgers ended a four-game skid Friday. The Pittsburgh Pirates stopped a seven-game losing streak Saturday and may not even finish above .500. That has helped the Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers climb back into a race they probably have no business being in. The Brewers were 18-6 since Aug. 20 and entered Saturday three games back of the final wild-card spot. The Phillies were 19-7 and also just three games back.


Some more left in the tank » Derek Jeter at least had one last great season left in him. It remains to be seen what the Yankees' 38-year-old shortstop will do in the future. But in 2012 he has been beyond good. His OPS (.813) is the highest it has been since the 2009 championship campaign. He is batting .323. He will soon pass the 200-hit mark. Jeter hasn't hit for this much power (.447 slugging percentage) since 2009. And Jeter is doing all of this on a bum left ankle that has left him day-to-day. He had to leave Wednesday's game against Boston in the eighth inning.

Who's hot?

1. Chase Headley » The Padres' NL MVP candidate now leads the NL in RBIs.

2. Phil Hughes » The Yankees righty has allowed fewer than three runs in five of six starts.

3. Dustin Pedroia » The Red Sox second baseman had seven hits in three games before taking paternity leave.

Who's not?

1. A.J. Burnett » The Pirates righty hasn't won since Aug. 16 as Pittsburgh has stumbled.

2. Mark Reynolds » The Orioles slugger went from red hot to ice cold really quickly.

3. Ryan Howard » The Phillies first baseman hasn't hit a home run yet in September.