Can Bryce Harper be Bryce Harper again in postseason?

Bryce Harper has learned to tune out the madness surrounding him on a daily basis.

Only a couple of weeks shy of his 25th birthday, the Nationals superstar already has heard talk he will be the highest paid player in baseball when he becomes a free agent after next season, and that he will be playing for the Yankees, or the Cubs, or the Dodgers or basically anywhere but Washington.

At the All-Star Game last July in Miami, Harper explained his method of shutting out the world when he's standing alone in right field.

"You control what you hear and what you don't hear," he said. "Your mind and what you do, it's like a little room. You try to put your furniture here. I want this chair here. I want this chair here. I want that clock up on the wall. I want to listen to this type of music.

"So you try to do the best you can to not really listen to it. Of course you're going to hear things. Mets fans are kind of rude. Braves fans kind of rude. Phillies fans? Not as bad, but a little bit upset. Those are the things you hear the most, about family members and things like that, where you want to turn around and punch somebody right in the mouth because of those reasons.

"But everything else I don't really hear. I just try to lock in best I can that day and be mentally prepared for those times."

This week is one of those times Harper will have to be prepared mentally for anything.

The unanimous National League Most Valuable Player in 2015 should be the most feared hitter in the Nationals lineup as they head into the NL Division Series against the Cubs, but he's coming off a hyperextended left knee injury that forced him out of action for 41 games until returning last week.

Like Kyle Schwarber during last year's World Series, Harper is trying to get his timing back in a big-time hurry, and without much game action to get comfortable. Schwarber obviously was out for almost the entire season before returning as a designated hitter, so the degree of difficulty isn't as high.

And Schwarber believes Harper will be fine once the first pitch is thrown on Friday in Game 1 in Washington.

"The playoffs are here," Schwarber said. "It's going to be an adrenaline-packed thing, that guy has played a lot of baseball in his life and he has played a lot of major-league

baseball, so I'm sure that once everything starts kicking in, everything is going to be fine for (him). He's a heck of a ballplayer, and once he gets running out there I'm sure it will all come back.

"It's a weird feeling to explain. I'm sure he's taking a lot of batting practice behind the scenes, trying to get (his timing) back."

Harper played in only five games after returning last week, hitting .167 (3-for-18) with seven strikeouts and no extra-base hits or RBIs. Can Bryce be Bryce without facing much in-game pitching before the start of the postseason.

"Yeah, once you get the at-bats," Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "He has had (simulated) games. … He's not going to be in mid-season form, but he's going to be good enough to be ready to go."

Harper is one of the game's brightest young stars, but needs to step up his game in October. Last year he hit .235 with one RBI in the Nationals' five-game loss to the Dodgers in the NLDS, and overall he has a .211 average in 14 postseason games in three seasons.

Adding to the drama, this week's matchup against the Cubs may be serendipitous, considering Peter Gammons told WSCR-AM 670 earlier this year that people told him Harper would "prefer to play for the Cubs."

When I asked Harper about the rumor last June, he issued a non-denial denial.

"A lot of people here say, 'I hear that, I hear this,'" Harper said. "But I'm a Washington National right now and I enjoy playing here in D.C. and everybody knows that."

The operative words were "right now."

Harper responded to the rumor a couple of days later by trolling the media the next day, putting a photo of himself and Cubs star Kris Bryant, a friend from their hometown of Las Vegas, on Instagram along with the hashtag "Back2BackOneDay."

Get it? Harper and Bryant back to back in the Cubs' lineup one day?

"I do that to the media because they stir it more than I do," Harper told the Washington Post. "That's why I do the things I do at times, because it's funny to me. It's like, 'All right, people want to talk about this and talk about that. Why not just throw this out there and make them think about it?' "

Bryant said later he had no idea what Harper was planning when he had the photo taken, but thought the idea was brilliant.

"He was stirring the pot," Bryant said. "He's just totally having fun because I think a lot of people were talking about that. He's funny, man. He knows how to get people talking about stuff, and I love that about him."

Rizzo said he didn't blame Harper for wanting to play with the Cubs.

"Who wouldn't want to play in Chicago in the summertime?" he said.

Wherever Harper goes, he's going to make enough to buy a small country, or maybe even a medium-sized one. Some believe he can command a $400 million contract.

Why are so many people concerned or obsessed with how much money Harper is going to make after 2018?

"I don't know, I think that's human nature," he said. "I think that's part of the way the world takes things like that. Like I said I don't even worry about it much. I try to focus on what I can do that day to help my team win. I don't want to look into my future. It's not fair to myself. It's not fair to my team. I'm a guy who wants to live in the moment, help my team win."

There's no better time than now to help his team win, and Harper is doing everything he can to get back to his normal self.

Last Saturday night at Nationals Park, Harper changed his walk-up music in-game from Moby's "Flower" to "Fearless," in which Kendrick Lamar raps: "I fell twice before/ My bounceback was special/ Letdowns will get you/ And the critics will test you/ But the strong will survive/ Another scar may bless you."

Will Harper answer the critics with an October to remember, or has the lack of at-bats since returning from the knee injury put him behind the eight-ball?

Tune in.

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