Year after historic run, Murphy back in spotlight

Year after historic run, Murphy back in spotlight

WASHINGTON -- While Daniel Murphy went through his historic tear through the 2015 postseason to help lead the Mets to the World Series, Dusty Baker was filling in as a TBS studio analyst and watching in awe as Murphy homered in a record six consecutive games.

"I just thought, 'Nah, he can't do it again.' And the next thing you know, he does it again," Baker said. "Then it's like, 'Nah, he can't do it this time again.' And then he does it again. They wouldn't have gotten there if it weren't for Daniel Murphy. It would have made it tough on us to get where we wanted to go without Daniel Murphy."

Game Date Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 7 LAD 4, WAS 3 video
Gm 2 Oct. 9 WSH 5, LAD 2 video
Gm 3 Oct. 10 WAS 8, LAD 3 video
Gm 4 Oct. 11 LAD 6, WAS 5 video
Gm 5 Oct. 13 LAD 4, WSH 3 video

The Nationals also have their sights set on reaching the World Series, a quest they will begin Friday night (5:30 p.m. ET on FS1) in Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Dodgers at Nationals Park, where Murphy will be one of their most important players.

But is it possible that Murphy can provide the same boost for Washington this postseason that he did for New York last year? Perhaps it is unfair to ask a player to duplicate one of the best postseason performances in recent memory. In 14 games, Murphy hit .328/.391/.724 with seven homers, a 1.115 OPS and earned the NLCS Most Valuable Player Award.

After showing that ability last October, however, Murphy spent the entire 2016 regular season proving it was no fluke. He punished opposing pitchers, hitting .347/.390/.595 with 25 homers, his .985 OPS was tied for first in the NL. He just missed the batting title and will garner some votes for the NL Most Valuable Player Award.

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"I think he just took that, whatever he found, he took that right into the postseason, and then he picked up in Spring Training right where he left off, and he's been able to hold it together all season," outfielder Jayson Werth said. "All bets are off in the playoffs, but I don't see why he's going to change his approach or all the stuff he's been doing, because it's enabled him to be so successful these past 14-15 months. Anything can happen. I wouldn't really expect much different really."

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The biggest question for the Nationals is whether Murphy will even be healthy enough to do so. Both Baker and general manager Mike Rizzo have said Murphy will be ready to play Friday, which would be his first start since Sept. 17 due to a strained buttocks.

Murphy's milestone hit

Murphy participated in the Nationals' workout for a second consecutive day Wednesday, taking batting practice, fielding grounders and going through a more rigorous baserunning test once the team workout was complete. Running remains the biggest hurdle in overcoming his injury, because even when he was too injured to play, Murphy has still been able to hit in the cage. He has made three pinch-hit appearances during the past few weeks.

"Would you take 80 percent of Daniel Murphy or 100 percent of somebody else? This guy knows what it's like to be in the playoffs and to be a playoff hero," Baker said. "He has a pretty good idea and he knows his body. He's been working hard at this. He's been working so hard at this. I'm proud of how he worked and how he wants to come back. We're going to give him that opportunity."

And with that opportunity, Murphy is going to try to build off the success he had last postseason. He quickly pointed out that he is not a postseason veteran, with only the 14 games last year under his belt, but said last October taught him that settling into the game was the biggest key to success.

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"We'll all be pretty well wound up once that game starts, but I feel like the deeper you get into a series, the deeper you get into a game, the more you're able to settle in, and then it just becomes about execution," Murphy said. "It's the little things. A two-out walk doesn't necessarily feel like a rally in the regular season, but when you get a runner on base, especially against the kind of pitching we're going to face from L.A., it's a rally. So baserunning is massive, executing on defense, those are all really big things."

And having a healthy Murphy will be a key for the Nationals because of his ability to pull off another historic performance.

"If he does half of that for us," first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said, "I think we would take it."

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.