The Washington Nationals appear to be paying a steep price for dismissing Dusty Baker after 192 regular season wins and two NL East titles in two years.
Less than six months after Baker was dismissed by phone, the franchise finds itself in a situation it never experienced under his leadership. The Washington Nationals winning the NL East, as they did by a combined 28 games in two years under Baker, is not a foregone conclusion under rookie manager Dave Martinez.
Is this a classic case of hindsight being 20/20? No.
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The Nationals were immediately pilloried for firing a manager who won 192 ballgames in two regular seasons. Then you can add in the widely accepted belief that baseball’s best-of-five first round is a crap shoot. All of this makes dismissing Baker, after a pair of excruciating one-run Game 5 losses, look even worse.
Washington has won the NL East four times in the past six years. Except for the 2017 season under Baker, when the Nationals were consistently focused, hungry and dominant, the team has been a disappointment each year following a division crown.
Following the second division title in 2014, Bryce Harper asked “where’s my ring?” when the Nats signed Max Scherzer. Despite Harper’s MVP year, Matt Williams‘ 2015 team imploded down the stretch and missed the playoffs.
While the 2018 season is still relatively young, the Nationals are in third place, where they haven’t been this late since 2013.
In fairness, injuries have certainly plagued Martinez’s squad this year. But, as evidenced by seven shutout losses and frequent base-running gaffes, the Nats have undeniably underachieved.
When June ends, the Nationals will have gone the entire month without being in first place. In two seasons under Baker, Washington was only out of first for a grand total of seven days.
As injured players return, perhaps Martinez’s group will run away with the NL East. Maybe the 2018 Washington Nationals will also get the stellar October performances and lucky bounces required to advance out of the elusive NLDS.
Until those results are known, a simple question will haunt this franchise: Are the Washington Nationals better off than they were under Dusty Baker? So far, the answer is no.