The 2017 MLB season ended in familiar fashion for the Washington Nationals, heartbreak and a first round exit. Manager Dusty Baker had led the Nationals to two straight NL East titles in 2016 and 2017. Unfortunately, both seasons ended in first round eliminations. Following the 2017 season, Dusty Baker was fired and replaced with the Chicago Cubs bench coach Dave Martinez. Martinez has steered the Nationals to a 74-73 record and are 8.5 games out of a playoff spot. With Martinez’s first season as a manager turning out to be a disappointment, let’s look back at the Dusty Baker decision.
Baker was fired due to not being able to get the team over the hump and the front office thought the answer was someone with zero managing experience. Dave Martinez has been the bench coach for Joe Maddon since 2008 when they coached together in Tampa. Martinez then followed Maddon to Chicago in 2015 to become the new bench coach. Martinez has been with Maddon since 2008 which allowed for him to learn from one of the top managers in the league.
Sadly, Martinez has been unable to take advantage of one of the best rosters in baseball. The team was virtually the same from the past two years, but has drastically underperformed. Martinez had at his disposal the best pitcher in baseball, Max Scherzer, as well as the 2015 NL MVP, Bryce Harper. Instead, the team is on the verge of missing the playoffs and fan-favorite players have been traded to contenders.
Martinez has made questionable decisions over the season that have cost the team games. The first decision came in July by not pulling Ryan Madson in the bottom of the ninth against the Cubs. The closer was showing signs of fatigue and had loaded the bases. Two of the runners reached base due to Madson hitting them with a pitch. Martinez’s decision to keep Madson on the mound resulted in David Bote hitting a walk-off grand slam.
The next night against the Cardinals, Martinez decided to pitch Koda Glover for the second game in a row. Glover had just returned to the game against the Cubs from a year-long stint on the DL due to shoulder inflammation. The Cardinals walked off the Nationals when Glover gave up a home run to the first batter in the bottom of the ninth. The Nationals had many other relievers available and Martinez could have slowly eased Glover back in as his stamina improved. The back to back walk off losses crushed the Nationals spirit and any hopes the team had of making a run for a playoff spot.
Martinez was responsible for the one bright spot in the National’s season. He decided to pull up prospect Juan Soto in June due to injuries to the outfield. Soto took advantage of the opportunity given to him by his manager and is the front-runner for Rookie of the Year.
Dusty Baker was liked by the Nationals’ players and many were upset at the firing. Washington’s front office believed change was needed but instead the team has regressed. While Baker had his flaws, he was able to lead a team that missed the playoffs in 2015, to two straight division titles. His biggest flaw was not being able to get over the playoff hump. In contrast to Martinez, he was at least able to reach the postseason. It is unlikely Martinez will be fired after this season, but he will be on the hot seat in 2019.
Feature Image From San Jose Mercury News.