Usually, when a baseball team ices a playoff berth with several games left in the regular season, it has the luxury of using that extra time to rest some starters and jostle its rotation to prepare for the October battles to come. That certainly holds true for the 2012 Cincinnati Reds, who punched their post-season ticket a couple of weeks ago and have still managed to play solid baseball in the days since. Now, with their roster pretty much set for the looming playoffs, the Reds will also get a rare chance to ease their manager back into the throes of competition before the baseball's second season begins. On Monday night against the St. Louis Cardinals, Dusty Baker was back in the dugout for the first time since the night before the Reds clinched after battling through a scary episode of an irregular heartbeat that culminated in a mini-stroke in late September.
In Baker's absence, bench coach Chris Speier led the Reds to seven wins against four losses and helped the team pull into a tie with the Washington Nationals for the best record in the National League. With the Central division title already sewed up, the Reds can now set their sights on securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Of course to do that, Cincinnati will likely need to take at least two of three games against the Cardinals, who need some wins of their own to ensure a Wild Card slot. It will be interesting to see how hard the Reds play in this series and how hard Baker manages against the bitter rivals from St. Louis. Re-routing the road to the World Series through Cincy would be a great boon to this club, but is it worth risking injury at this late date? It just may be, if the reward would also include shutting the Cards out of playoff consideration.
For Baker's part, the pressures of his job figure to be somewhat diminished compared to what they were two weeks ago. The team is no longer fighting for a playoff spot but jockeying for playoff positioning, and the pitching staff has continued to roll along. Baker reportedly watched Homer Bailey's no-hitter last Friday on television, which probably went a long way in aiding his recovery. With rumors already beginning to swirl about Baker's future (his contract is up after 2012), the veteran manager will need his health intact as a he auditions for possible employers over the next few weeks. Ironically, if the Reds win big in St. Louis, Baker might usher the Los Angeles Dodgers into the playoffs and remove a possible suitor. One line of thinking has Baker moving on to L.A., but it's hard to imagine Don Mattingly being ousted after a playoff appearance.
At any rate, it's good news all around for the Reds these days, and it's always great to hear about a medical recovery. Welcome back to the fold, Dusty.
Adam Hughes was raised, and still lives, in rural Indiana. He has been a Cincinnati Reds fan since the early 1980s, when gods like Dan Driessen and Cesar Cedeno roamed the ethereally green Riverfront turf. He thinks that Dusty Baker is the anti-Davey.
- Sports & Recreation
- Cincinnati Reds
- Dusty Baker