Bryce Harper 'a long ways from running' as playoffs approach

The Washington Nationals have overcome injuries all season to punch their probable ticket to the postseason. By the time the playoffs start, however, they may be down one key man.

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Outfielder Bryce Harper still hasn’t been cleared to run as September approaches. The way manager Dusty Baker is telling it, Harper may not be able to do that for quite some time, according to MASN.

“(Harper) is a long ways from running, which is playing the outfield, running the bases,” manager Dusty Baker said. “I don’t know if he’s supposed to hit on it or not. I hate the thought of him not being around, but you’ve got to make those plans, whether you like it or not. Before we holler doomsday, we’ve got a month to go, and then we’ll see.”

That, as you might have already guessed, seems like a pretty big problem. Harper’s initial diagnosis appeared optimistic. He somehow avoided serious ligament or tendon damage after sliding across first base while trying to beat out a throw during an Aug. 12 game.

As that MASN piece mentions, Harper’s timeline is further complicated by the fact that the Nationals minor-league teams did not make the playoffs. Because of that, Harper won’t be able to play in minor-league rehab games once September rolls around. He’ll need to find other ways to simulate game action.

Once Harper can run, he’ll have to prove he can make cuts and slide. If he can do all that, he’ll need to find a way to get his bat back in midseason form. He hasn’t been able to take swings since the initial injury, so it would be tough for him to step in against Jake Arrieta and expect to produce.

Considering Harper’s situation, it’s easy to make the comparison to Chicago Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber. The 24-year-old returned for the World Series after a significant knee injury was supposed to keep him out for the entire season. He immediately became a key member of the offense, hitting .412 in five games.

Bryce Harper is looking at a tight timeline if he wants to return for October. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Though Schwarber was able to return and immediately produce, he should be considered an outlier. And while his injury was far more devastating, it’s worth noting Schwarber was at least jogging in August. It’s also believed he tracked 1,000 pitches to get ready for the World Series.

All of that is just a reminder on how much work Harper has ahead of him if he hopes to play in the National League Division Series. It’s possible, sure, but it’s not going to be easy.

Like Schwarber, Harper doesn’t need to be at 100 percent in order to make a difference for the Nationals. If he takes the field at 70 percent, he’ll still impact the game.

In order to do even that, though, the Nationals will need to make sure he’s not risking a serious injury by returning too soon. Harper is only under contract with the team for one more year. The Nationals don’t want him to spend that season on the disabled list with a major injury.

That puts both the team and Harper in a tough spot as the postseason approaches. The Nationals’ window to win with him is closing rapidly. While there’s pressure on both sides to win the World Series, the risks could greatly outweigh the reward unless Harper starts making significant progress soon.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!