The popular Washington Nationals manager has earned the right to run the team next year. Despite everything, he and the Nats have excelled in the pinch.
Pretend for a moment we are sitting together at your favorite chicken wing place at the end of March discussing the Washington Nationals.
On the verge of an exciting season ahead, I carefully tell you everything that went wrong over the first five months of the regular season. The 12 players on the disabled list. Losing Adam Eaton for five months, Bryce Harper nearly shredding his knee and a bullpen who could not lock down a parked car. Now, I am avoiding the offense and the good stuff. Only rehashing the bad.
My exit question to you, as you pour more adult beverage into a mug, is, “So, what is the Nats record?”
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You would never say 75-49. Yet, as of Thursday morning the Nats hold a 13.5 game lead in the National League East. Their regular season fate of the two-seed in the NL is almost sealed. How in the world have the Nats survived?
Before the season began, the conventional wisdom said Baker must advance in the playoffs to earn a contact for 2018. His deal expires when this season finishes and, against his desires, no extension offer has turned public.
When you factor everything from April to now, you see the case for Baker’s return. Not only are the Nats successful, they are outperforming expectations. Their Pythagorean record is 74-50. Stunning, no?
The knocks on Baker are there. Starting pitchers throw over 100 pitches every start. He hesitates to bring in relievers. Position players get heavy doses of rest and why on God’s green earth is Alejandro De Aza hitting first?
This season is the ultimate juggling act. Not one Opening Day starter in the outfield is on the active roster. Until General Manager Mike Rizzo made a flurry of deals in July, there was no one healthy in the bullpen Baker trusted. Though all this, the Nats have the chance to clinch a playoff spot before September 10.
If you want to fault Baker on how he uses his pitchers, he deserves the credit for holding things together while running out lineups every night that would make you cringe in the Grapefruit League. Rizzo bought the groceries, but Baker crafted the soup and made it a good meal.
Nothing about this season is easy, but we get wound up on the day-to-day mistakes and forget focusing on the bigger picture.
Whether Baker’s decisions during the playoffs is for another day. Based on what he has accomplished with what he has, the man deserves Manager of the Year.
Unless there is a self-implosion come October, he is the best person to manage the Nats into the future.