Another postseason disappointment in Washington D.C. means that the Nationals are looking for yet another manager.
The Nats announced Friday that Dusty Baker, who led them to back-to-back NL East titles but also back-to-back first-round playoff exits, won’t return as their manager in 2018. Baker’s contract expired after this season and the Nats said via a statement that he’s not getting a new one:
Here's the statement from the Nationals on Dusty Baker and his coaching staff… pic.twitter.com/pR29C34TwZ
— Mark Zuckerman (@MarkZuckerman) October 20, 2017
Baker, 68, was the Nationals’ manager for two seasons. He won 97 games this season and 95 in 2016. But for a team that’s been chasing its first-ever win in a postseason series of any kind, Baker ultimately failed in the biggest task — getting the Nats over the postseason hump.
They lost to the Chicago Cubs in five games in this year’s National League Division Series. The Game 5 loss to the Cubs featured a huge meltdown by the Nats, mostly with ace Max Scherzer on the mound as a relief pitcher on two-days’ rest.
Baker has a history of not getting it done in the postseason — whether it was with the Giants, the Reds or the Cubs, and his critics said this year’s Nats’ team is another example of that.
For a while, it looked like Baker might get a mid-season extension with the Nats, but things went the opposite way. Even Baker himself was shocked by the news, he told Bob Nightengale of USA Today:
“I’m surprised and disappointed,” Baker told USA TODAY Sports. “They told me they would get back to me and I told them I was leaving town yesterday and they waited 10 days to tell me.
“I really thought this was my best year. We won at least 95 games each year and won the division back to back years but they said they wanted to go a different direction. It’s hard to understand.”
Jayson Werth, the longtime Nats outfielder, who is now also a free agent told Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic:
Jayson Werth: “Dusty is one of the best men I have had a chance to work with in baseball.”
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) October 20, 2017
Now the big question: Who will the Nats get to take his place? The team is certainly in win-now mode in 2018, Bryce Harper’s last before free agency. They have Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg in their prime, and enough other stars — Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy and Trea Turner, for example — that a managerial change won’t discount them from playoff contention.
The biggest names on the managerial market at the moment are Astros bench coach Alex Cora (who is likely to take the Boston Red Sox manager job) and Brad Ausmus (who was fired by the Detroit Tigers). Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports wondered if the Nats might hire Tony LaRussa, who left his front-office gig with the Arizona Diamondbacks this week. It sounds unbelievable, but you never know with the Nats. When they pick their man, it’ll be the Nats’ sixth manager since the 2011 season.
And whoever it is, they should know the expectations are high and the leash is short.
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