"I don’t give a crap what the Mets are doing. Or Dodgers or Giants or Texas or anybody. I know what kind of team we are."
That's Bryce Harper commenting on the surging Mets after Monday night's games—not to mention a weekend sweep—found New York officially ahead of the Nationals in the NL East standings. He sounds frustrated. The kind of team the Nationals are right now is a second-place one.
The Mets' competing for the division title has given me something else to enjoy about baseball: I’m relishing the opportunity to truly hate Bryce Harper. The Mets are the heroes and Harper is the villain. The Mets have terrific pitching and Harper hits them anyway, with the exception of Matt Harvey. All we need now is Harvey to say "Bryce" is a stupid name or something equally trivial and he can be the new Chipper Jones.
The Washington Nationals have been the perennially dominant team in the division for a few years now, helped out in no small part by Bryce Harper, who’s a top-flight talent. Division rivalries create all sorts of interesting storylines and it’s those storylines and narratives that help make baseball fun. When you think back to the turn of the century and all those years the Mets were fighting with the Braves for a chance at the division and the postseason, you remember all those ancillary twists and turns in the drama of Mets vs. Braves.
John Rocker and his hateful statements yet dominant pitching, The Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz threesome, and the dominance of Chipper Jones were just a few of the subplots. Matthew Callan spent a lot of time recapping 1999 many years later, and these posts have plenty of Mets-Braves battles in them.
As time moved on, I began to appreciate Chipper more and more. There’s always an enemy, but it’s harder to find a compelling and memorable villain. Chipper Jones—from Mike Piazza’s "Hi Larry" comments that spawned decades of "LARR-RRY" chants through to naming his kid "Shea"—was an unforgettable foe.
You don’t get that without being great, because without a great team and a great player the story breaks up when someone’s traded, or the battles just don’t matter because one team is simply playing out the string. The Braves had a remarkable run of winning the division and Chipper Jones will be in the Hall Of Fame. That continued presence made Chipper the recurring villain and the Andruw Joneses and Brian Jordans the henchmen.
Byrce Harper will likely be a thorn in our sides for years to come. His 11 homers against the Mets is the second most against any club behind only the Miami Marlins. The Nationals have Reed Johnson—Met and Johan Santana killer—although he’s on the 60-day disabled list. Jayson Werth participated in the abbreviated Mets vs. Phillies rivalry and Mets fans still carry some residual hatred from that. Former Met Matt den Dekker is over there, and other bit players will emerge as the Mets and Nationals continue to battle in the NL East. There are still six games to be played between the two teams this season, with plenty of opportunity for drama.
Bryce Harper has character and personality. He’s not afraid to open his mouth and has a lot of the swagger that comes with being a superstar. These things make good stories, good rivals, good villains. The remaining games should be tense, the stories interesting, and hopefully the Mets come out on top this time.