Dusty Must Go

October 10, 2017

 

If the Washington Nationals ever hope to win a World Series title, they must part ways with Dusty Baker. He simply doesnít understand, nor has he shown the capability of learning that the post-season is a different game than the regular season. Without that realization, it is incredibly difficult to win even if you have the best team.

 

During the regular season, itís not a big deal to lose a game. Most teams that make the playoffs lose at least 60. However, in a short series like the Division Series, one can only afford to lose two games. Beyond that your season is over. In the regular season, itís likely a team will use at least 45 different players, sometimes as many as 60, during the course of a playoff run. In the post-season, there are only 25 guys on the roster and for the most part the winning team will use only 15-17 of them. Thereís not a lot of trying to get guys at bats or trying to keep pitchers fresh as there is during the regular season. Every decision has to be made with the idea that this moment is the most important moment of the game and our chances of progressing depend on taking advantage of this moment. There is no planning for next week or even tomorrow. It is now or never.

 

And the problem is that Baker isnít some new manager with post-season jitters making these mistakes. Heís been making bad decisions in critical situations for playoff teams now for twenty-four years.

 

So when Dusty Baker came to get Max Scherzer after 98 pitches and a 1-run lead in the 7th inning of game 3 with a man on second base, there was a clear choice to make. The series was tied in Chicago, but if the Nats lost this game there was the prospect of facing arguably the Cubs best pitcher, Jake Arrieta, with the Nats 4th best pitcher, Tanner Roark, for a must-win game for the Nats. That is not an ideal situation, obviously. So it was vitally important that Baker do everything possible to preserve that lead, especially with only eight outs to go.

 

So what did Baker do? He brought in arguably the Nationalsí 4th best lefty reliever, Sammy Solis. In the regular season that might have been an acceptable choice. After all, he was going to be facing two lefties, Kyle Schwarber and then Jason Heyward and would probably need another lefty eventually as the line-up turned over. And Solis had a pretty good track record of getting hitters out. But this was the playoffs where flaws tend to get magnified. So Solisí wild tendencies came back to haunt him. He was all over the strikezone and finally grooved a pitch that pinch hitter Albert Almora smoked into the outfield for a game-tying single.

 

What were Bakerís other options? Well, GM Mike Rizzo spent a good deal of the summer trying to fix the back end of the bullpen and through trades brought three pitchers with closing experience to the Nats: righties Brandon Kintzler and Ryan Madson and lefty Sean Doolittle. After their acquisition, they basically pitched the 7th through the 9th inning of every close game in which the Nats held the lead. This was the 7th inning. Any one of those guys would have been acceptable. If you were afraid of Schwarber match-up, then he could have gone with Doolittle for a couple of batters and let the righties close it out. Doolittle could pitch the 7th and maybe part of the 8th. If you liked the Schwarber vs righty match-up better, either Kintzler or Madson should have been the choice. It was for situations like these that they had been acquired and had excelled. But Dusty elected to go with his 4th best choice. Or was he the 5th best choice because he had lefty Oliver Perez in the bullpen as well and he had been the match-up lefty all season for late-inning situations like this. Or was he the 6th best choice with Matt Albers, a lefty groundball machine with a 1.68 ERA over the season, also in the pen. Solisí ERA was 5.88. Lefty Matt Grace was also available, an even greater groundball machine with an ERA of 4.32. If one uses fielding independent pitching statistics, Solis was the Nationalsí 14th best pitcher this season. Even if you argue that Solis had been very effective over the last month of the season, youíre still putting your teamís chances in the hands of a pitcher who has less than 90 career innings in the majors, over three other choices that have been in exactly these types of situations before. Yet this was the guy Dusty Baker went to with the season on the line when he had only eight more outs to go.

 

It makes his decision to pitch to Anthony Rizzo in the bottom of the eighth irrelevant. That was simply the decision that sealed the Nationalsí fate. Rizzo had been the only Cubs hitter who had been hitting at least .300 for the series. The next best mark was Kris Bryantís .273. The hitter following Rizzo, Wilson Contreras, was hitting .143 and the guy behind him, Almora, had only 1 hit in his entire playoff career (ironically it had been the hit that tied the game off Solis) and behind him was Jason Heyward who was hitting .167. But instead of pitching around Rizzo or even intentionally walking the Cubsí hottest hitter, Baker decided to pitch to him. He made them pay with a bloop single that scored the go-ahead run.

 

In the regular season, these are not bad decisions because there are so many games to play. In the post-season, they are critically terrible decisions that will very likely end the Nationalsí season. They should also end Dusty Bakerís stay as the Nationals manager. It remains to be seen if the GM and ownership who hired both Baker and Matt Williams before him can see clearly enough to grasp this.

 

If not, the Nationals not only will not win a championship in the foreseeable future, but they will lose the most talented player the franchise has had since Walter Johnson, because Bryce Harper isnít going to stick around with an organization that canít recognize their biggest obstacle. For the Nats to win a championship, Dusty Baker must go.††††

 

 

Postscript 10/13/2017: More questionable Dusty decisions that cost the Nats: In the deciding Game 5, starting Gio Gonzalez, who has a well-chronicled history of post-season meltdowns and has never recorded more than 15 outs in any of his six playoff starts, over Tanner Roark, whose post-season ERA is half a run lower than Gonzalez. And if he wasnít going to start Roark, he could at least have used him out of the pen. He spent much of 2015 there and was fully rested, unlike Scherzer who was going on 2 days rest. He didnít do either. Also, walking Jason Heyward (.167 in the playoffs with a .500 OPS, .259 with a .715 OPS during the regular season) with 2 outs in the 5th inning makes no sense. Yes, bad luck and bad umpiring played a role, as did sloppy play (which, by the way, doesnít happen much with well-coached teams) but Bakerís decision-making only added more weight to an already burdensome task. Itís time for new management.