Bryce Harper has been out of the Washington Nationals lineup since Aug. 12, when he suffered a knee injury while slipping on first base. The argument could be made that the Nats haven’t missed him.

Since Harper’s injury, the Nats have gone 20-13, building a 21-game lead in the NL East and thanks to the Dodgers’ September collapse, Washington also has a chance of taking over the best record in the National League and earning home-field advantage in the postseason.

Obviously, the Nationals are a better team with their MVP-caliber star in the lineup. At the time of his injury, Harper was batting .326/.419/.614 with 29 home runs, 27 doubles and 87 RBI. Despite the Dodgers’ struggles, it’s difficult to imagine Washington beating them in a playoff series without their best hitter and middle-of-the-order run producer.

But the hope has been that Harper could take most, if not all of September to get healthy just in time to prepare for the postseason. According to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, Harper’s recovery appears to be on schedule based on what Nats manager Dusty Baker told him on Saturday.

“Dusty Baker told us this morning that Harper is on the way,” Rosenthal reported on Fox. “He ran the bases today, he played some long toss. As long as he keeps progressing, he’ll face some kind of live pitching soon. Most likely, the Nationals will bring up some instructional league pitchers to Washington and Harper will take at-bat after at-bat against them in simulated games.”

Rosenthal went on to report that Harper said feeling good while running on that left knee is most important. He can fight for his pitches at the plate and look for what he can hit. But being able to run the bases and play in the outfield will determine whether or not he can be in the lineup.

The Nationals have 15 games remaining in the regular season going into Saturday’s play. Ideally, Harper would see some action against major league pitcher to get his timing back. Simulated games and instructional league pitchers would certainly help, but Harper and the Nats surely prefer that he doesn’t go into the postseason having not faced major league pitching for two months.

Of course, that’s presuming that Harper will be available for the postseason, but he and the Nats appear to be optimistic about that.

About Ian Casselberry

Ian is an editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. He has covered baseball for Yahoo! Sports, MLive.com, Bleacher Report and SB Nation, and provides analysis for several sports talk radio shows each week. He currently lives in Asheville, NC.