Harper had missed 42 games after slipping on the first-base bag in a game on Aug. 12 and ending up on the ground, writhing in pain. He was putting up Most Valuable Player Award numbers for the second time in three seasons when he went down, and the diagnosis was a bone bruise in his left knee along with a strained calf and a good deal of uncertainty as to when he would return and what shape he would be in when he did.
In that sense, Harper’s injury fit right into the postseason story line of the Nationals, which has become embedded in frustration.
A first-place finish in the National League East in 2012 and a loss in the first round to the St. Louis Cardinals. A first-place finish in 2014 and a loss in the first round to the San Francisco Giants. And then more of the same in 2016 — first place in the N.L. East, and then a first-round ouster, this time by the Los Angeles Dodgers.