In his first season with the Washington Nationals, Dusty Baker has proven his worth. No matter when the season ends.
Yes, Washington Nationals Manager Dusty Baker has never won a winner-take-all game before.
His critics have plenty of ammunition over his eight missed chances and lack of World Series rings as the man in charge. Unless something stupid happens tonight during Game 5 of Washington’s National League Divisional Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, you cannot blame a loss or a bad season on him.
Go back to the end of the 2015 season. The team was in disarray. From one horrible September weekend against the New York Mets to Jonathan Papelbon choking Bryce Harper in the dugout, there were no moral victories to be gained in 2015.
Mike Rizzo and company canned manager Matt Williams, who contorted himself so much into doing things by the book he forgot to manage. After Bud Black and the Nats could not settle on a price, finally, they went to Baker to run the team.
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In response, the Washington Nationals won the NL East going away, earning home field advantage for this crucial and critical Game 5. Twice before, Washington won the division and failed to advance. Goodness, it may happen tonight, but the job Baker did, getting the most out of his players, put them in the position to win at home.
The players love him. Win or lose that will not change whether the season ends or moves on to Chicago. Making the playoffs is never old. A third failure to advance will frustrate everyone.
Before blaming everyone if they lose, take a moment to remember how we got here. The injuries to Stephen Strasburg and Wilson Ramos are not on overuse, a common mistake from Baker’s past. Okay, Danny Espinosa’s prolonged slump you can pin on Baker, but Stephen Drew’s at bats are equally bad.
The Nats earned home field based on their abilities as a team. Go back to the locker room celebration after clinching the division in Pittsburgh. To a beer-soaked man, they talked about how strong they were as a whole team. They have each other’s backs and the confidence to match.
That is what Baker brought to the table in 2016. Swagger is too strong of a word, more like a self-assurance they can win.
For all the criticism, some well-deserved, Baker received over the years, this is his finest managing job ever. Getting all the personalities in check and focused on the prize is on him and the staff. If they go down, so be it. If they win, celebrate him as much as you do the team.