Sports Tonight: Bryce Harper in perfect place to regain hitting stroke

Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper in action during a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Saturday, April 8, 2017, in Philadelphia.

With the Washington Nationals in playoff-preparation mode for a while, their game tonight against the Phillies at 7:05 at Citizens Bank Park (TV: CSN; radio: 94 WIP) would be a great time for centerfielder Bryce Harper to start shaking off some rust before the postseason.

Harper has been out of action since hurting his left knee on Aug. 12, and while the Nationals have played well without him, they’ll want their five-time All-Star in top form for the playoffs.

Citizens Bank Park is the perfect batting cage, I mean stadium, to make sure he has his swing straight.

In 38 games at “The Bank,” Harper has hit .296 with 12 home runs. He’s hit more home runs at CBP than at any other visiting stadium. He’s homered in 7.6 percent of his plate appearances in Philadelphia, nearly twice as often than in other visiting stadiums.

Harper was originally scheduled to play on Monday but was held out after waking up with flu-like symptoms. He’s said the key for him is to get his timing back at the plate against Major League pitching.

If he plays tonight, Harper will have six games, before the playoffs start for the Nationals on Oct. 6.

 

Camera icon TNS
Chicago Cubs left fielder Ben Zobrist (18) scores on the three RBI double by Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell (27) during the first inning of their game Monday, Sept. 25, 2017 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Mo. (Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Cubs can help themselves while hurting arch rival

As far as the Divisional races in Major League Baseball, the National League Central is the only one without a champion.

That, however, could end tonight when the Chicago Cubs playing at the St. Louis Cardinals at 8 on ESPN.

The Cubs reduced their magic number to one by beating the Cardinals on Monday. A win tonight or a loss by the Milwaukee Brewers against the Cincinnati Reds would give Chicago its second consecutive Central title and send them off to defend their World Series championship.

The rivalry between the Cubs and Cardinals is one of the oldest in baseball.  They’ve played more than 2,200 games. After having their own success, the next thing on their list is to keep the other from succeeding.

Chicago just eliminated St. Louis from the Central race and another win would severely hamper the Cardinals’ already difficult chances to capture a Wild Card spot into the playoffs.

Camera icon
Philadelphia Phillies manager Pete Mackanin sits in the dugout before the start of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

What I’m reading

Sixers coach Brett Brown got a contract extension during massive losing caused by management decisions to intentionally put together a non-competitive roster. Columnist Bob Brooker says the Phillies manager Pete Mackanin deserves the same treatment.

Playing in the East Coast Hockey League is hockey’s version of playing in an independent baseball league. Staff writer Sam Donnellon writes about long-shot players cashing a big dream.

Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva was hailed as a hero on Sunday because he went onto the field for the anthem while his teammates stayed in the locker room. Villanueva says people got his actions completely wrong. So much for that spike in jersey sales.

The Los Angeles Chargers have not won a football game, real or preseason, since they moved from San Diego. Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times gives the state of the Chargers coming into Sunday’s game against the Eagles.

Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving has had several months to come up with an explanation for why he said the earth is flat. He talked about it this morning on Boston radio and it’s still not clear whether or not he’s changed his mind.

I have no doubt that taking bribes to steer an athlete to a college is against NCAA rules. What I did not know was that NCAA rules were the law. U.S. lawyers clear things up.

 

Camera icon
L-R: Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Markelle Fultz of the Sixers at their Media Day on Sept. 25, 2017. CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

 

The riff

The Sixers should give injury-plagued center Joel Embiid a contract extension. Do whatever is necessary to get him to put pen to paper.

Yes, giving Embiid a deal worth more than $100 million is a gamble, but every big contract is subject to injury risks.

This, however, is a gamble the Sixers could afford to lose.

The Sixers salary cap is set up to absorb max-contracts to Embiid and presumably Ben Simmons while still allowing championship building by adding a high-level free agent, resigning key players and making smart trades.

If the Sixers paid Embiid $25 million for four years, he would be finished the third year of his deal before an extension for Simmons would kick in. He’d be done if Markelle Fultz earned a max extension.

Even if Embiid became a complete injury washout, the Sixers would still have the salary cap flexibility to build a legitimate contender

They can make one mistake and still be fine. The potential reward from Embiid staying healthy is worth the risk.

Tonight’s schedule

TV/Radio

Baseball
Nationals at Phillies, 7 p.m. (CSN; WIP-FM 94.1, WNPV-AM 1440)
Cubs at Cardinals, 8 p.m. (ESPN)
Padres at Dodgers, 10 p.m. (MLB Network)

Preseason Hockey
Rangers at Flyers, 7 p.m. (TCN, NHL Network; WPEN-FM 94.5)
Kings at Golden Knights, 10 p.m. (NHL Network)

Golf on Golf Channel
Hall of Fame induction ceremony, 6 p.m.

Boxing
Eduardo Ramirez vs. Leduan Barthelemy, featherweights, 9 p.m. (FS1)

WNBA Finals
Los Angeles Sparks at Minnesota Lynx, 8 p.m. (ESPN2)

Local Events

Baseball
Phillies vs. Nationals, 7:05 p.m., Citizens Bank Park

Preseason Hockey
Flyers vs. Rangers, 7 p.m., Wells Fargo Center