As Game 5 ended with heartbreak for Nationals fans, Baker moved into the media spotlight after throwing shade at Dave Roberts for overworking his ace Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw had pitched Game 4 on 3 day’s rest, but was then brought in to close out Game 5 and earn his first career save. Cubs fans will be quick to point out the hypocrisy in those words, as Baker is often criticized or overworking Cubs starters Kerry Wood and Mark Prior while managing there.
The overworked pitchers is just one criticism of many that have plagued Dusty Baker throughout his managerial career. In Chicago, Dusty claimed that On Base Percentage is meaningless if you cannot knock in the runners. A true statement, if it just ended there. Baker went on to say, “Clogging up the bases isn’t that great to me.”. This concept was scoffed and laughed at by modern baseball analysts, especially when Baker brought in Corey Patterson and Willy Taveras to leadoff for the Cincinnati Reds, despite neither managing an OBP above .280 in their seasons in Cincinnati.
Baker is often criticized for never winning a World Series, despite only signing to manage teams that were at their peak or, in the Reds case, the farm was just starting to graduate to the MLB. His first management stint with the Giants saw him lead teams that included Barry Bonds in his prime, a Hall of Fame worthy player, until the perjury trial and steroid use dominated the media. The Cubs had studs like Sammy Sosa (who hit 40 hr’s that season despite being injured and suspended for his corked bat incident), Moises Alou, and the pitching triumvirate of Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, and Carlos Zambrano. The Reds may have been in the cellar when Baker started there, but players like Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Johnny Cueto, and Homer Bailey were just getting their first tastes of the MLB when he signed on there. The Reds would go on to make the playoffs three of his final four seasons with the team, never making it out of the NLDS.
It has been established that Baker is a very controversial manager, who uses old-school logic in a new era of baseball to ultimately fall short of playoff success. The problem with blaming the manager of any baseball team, however, is that hindsight is 20/20 and teams can overcome some manager deficiencies if the team executes when necessary.
The Nationals lost by one run in Game 5. The Nationals stranded 11 baserunners throughout the game. The Nationals best hitter, Daniel Murphy, went up against Clayton Kershaw, who had pitched almost 7 innings the game before, and could not convert with two men on base. Jayson Werth got thrown out at home in the 6th on a play that was nowhere near close (The full video in case you missed it). Had he been held, who knows what kind of inning that could have turned into against a rookie pitcher.
What can be blamed on Baker then? For starters, leaving in Scherzer too long with a one run lead. Terry Francona has been praised all week for his handling of the bullpen throughout the Indians sweep, bringing in Andrew Miller as early as the 5th inning to secure a lead through the middle of the games. Scherzer is one of the top pitchers in baseball, there is no denying that, but come playoff times, the manager has to be able to step up and make that decision. Scherzer was already at 90+ pitches going into the inning, it only makes sense to bring in a reliever, especially with the increase in home runs Scherzer has given up this year compared to past seasons.
Yet, when Dusty finally does bring in the bullpen shortly after, all they do is give up three more runs in the inning. Dusty goes on and uses five relievers just for that one inning, being a big fan of playing the splits (have lefties pitch to lefties is an example). Half of the bullpen utilized in one inning that amounts to three earned runs given up. The reliever choice and usage can only fall on Dusty’s shoulders.
The Nationals hired a controversial manager, who made a couple of questionable decisions in a playoff elimination game, that ultimately ended in a heartbreaking loss for his team. The truth of the matter is, Baker can share some of the blame, yet the Nationals players and assistant coaches execution throughout the game deserve most of the blame. The questionable send of Jayson Werth killed the momentum that had been brewing in the 6th for the Nationals, Harper getting picked off in the 5th amidst cries of a balk left a sour taste in fan’s mouths, and Kershaw getting out of the 9th inning jam to earn his first save are all moments that could have helped the game play out in the Nationals favor had those plays been executed differently. It is fun and easy to blame Dusty, especially with the history of postseason failure that looms over his head, but this time around, there are actually valid excuses that can be made to defend his performance this Game 5.