The last time he faced off against the Chicago Cubs in the Postseason before this year, Daniel Murphy was swinging one of the hottest bats in baseball. In the New York Mets’ four-game sweep of the Cubs back in 2015, Murphy was named the NLCS MVP after he went 9 for 17 (.529/.556/1.294) with a double and four home runs.
“I still wish he was a Met,” Cubs’ skipper Joe Maddon joked before the start of the 2017 NLDS with Murphy and the Washington Nationals.
“There’s no question I do. He was so good a couple years ago, and he’s still good. He’s still very good. He’s outstanding.”
In his second season in D.C. after signing a 3-year/$37.5M free agent deal before the start of the 2016 campaign, Murphy put up a .322/.384/.543 line, 43 doubles and 23 HRs in 144 games and 593 plate appearances, over which he produced 136 wRC+ and was worth 4.3 fWAR.
This time around against the Cubs in the Postseason, however, he’s struggled, going just 2 for 15 thus far, with both hits singles.
Murphy’s not the only one in the series scuffling at the plate, of course, with both teams struggling to produce runs, but according to the 32-year-old, he’s not letting the pressure get to him either.
He’s trying to take it all in and enjoy the experience while he’s in it.
“Even in the midst of what may perceived to be some struggling,” Murphy said earlier this week, “not only by me personally, but you lose a ballgame yesterday, and hats off to the Cubs for the way they grinded out that win.
“But enjoy the moment. Like this is supposed to be fun. I'm fairly certain that a decade from now, none of you guys are going to want to talk to me about this kind of stuff, and they probably won't let me play in the game.
“So I'd really like to enjoy the moment, whether it be positive or negative, in my eyes, and hopefully that can give not only myself but our ballclub the freedom to go out and play with joy and peace, no matter how big the moment gets.”
Tonight, Murphy and the Nationals will go up against Kyle Hendricks again, after the Cubs’ right-hander held Nats’ hitters off the board through seven innings in Game 1, giving up just two hits and three walks in what ended up a 3-0 win for Chicago.
Murphy, who went 0 for 2 with a walk in the series opener, homered off Hendricks twice in three at bats in the regular season, and is 4 for 15 with a double and three home runs against the righty in their respective careers, postseason ABs included.
He was asked earlier this week what makes the Cubs’ starter so tough an opponent.
“The thing about Kyle that he does a really good job of, it's the two sides of the plate; he kind of can change the shape of his fastball as well, too,” Murphy explained.
“So sometimes he'll bring one off the hip and other times he'll straighten it out in the air. Or he'll start the one away that's a strike and walk you off the plate as a left-hander hitter or keep it on there. And he's got an elite changeup; that, you know, it's just tough to see.
“I think the best thing about him is what he does — is his ball has action so late. And so you have to kind of pick your poison: Like do I want to pick a spot and swing and hope that it does what I want to do it, and if it doesn't, you know, he may get my bat.
“He may break it. He does a really good job of working both sides of the plate, up, down, keeping you off-balance.”
Dusty Baker talked after the Nationals’ loss to Hendricks and the Cubs in Game 1 of the NLDS about changing their approach to be more aggressive, after seeing what he told reporters was a passive approach from his team at the plate.
“We only had two hits,” Baker said. “That meant that your approach wasn't correct. And so we had to change our approach.”
Nats’ hitters took a ton of strikes in that loss, with Hendricks throwing 52 strikes that weren’t put in play, according to BrooksBaseball, 36 of them sinkers.
“We were, you know, more passive on fastballs early in the count than I would like to see,” Baker said.
“Because everybody talks about getting deep in the count, and all that does is just put you in a situation where you've got to hit something off a guy with control,” he added, “hit something off the plate or off-speed, which he did to us last night. We just got to change our approach some.”
Will the Nationals, who did score three runs on five hits when they faced Hendricks in August, get to him again tonight?