Dan's Dugout: Dusty Could Be Key Man for Nats • Latino Sports

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Dan’s Dugout: Dusty Could Be Key Man for Nats

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Of the 30 major-league teams, only the Seattle Mariners and Washington Nationals have never been to the World Series.

That could change this year — for both teams.

Washington came within a whisker several times in recent seasons, losing once after shutting down Stephen Strasburg and another time when erstwhile manager Matt Williams pulled Jordan Zimmermann in the ninth inning of a gem he was pitching.

Nats manager Dusty Baker hugs hitting hero Bryce Harper

Nats manager Dusty Baker hugs hitting hero Bryce Harper

This time, with Dusty Baker at the helm, the Nationals may have found the missing ingredient.

Baker, once hailed as the second coming of Hank Aaron, never crafted the predicted Cooperstown path as a player but could easily reach the Hall of Fame as a manager.

He’s been Manager of the Year three times and runner-up three other times. His teams have reached postseason play seven times. And he has a better winning percentage than Tommy Lasorda, the Hall of Fame manager for whom he played in Los Angeles.

Though he’s pushing 70, Baker is full of the same youthful enthusiam that sparked a 31-game improvement the Giants during his first year there and a 21-game upswing by the Cubs when he went there.

Did we mention that the affable Californian is in his first year as pilot of the Nationals?

Going into this season, only 16 managers had won more games. Baker couldn’t end the Goat Curse in Chicago but he came close to winning the World Series in San Francisco. He also fared well with the Reds.

Teams led by Baker have won 90 or more games eight times. The guy obviously knows something about strategy, not to mention keeping clubhouse chemistry from boiling over under the pressure of the 162-game season.

Baker is respected by his players because they know what he went through. After arriving in the majors projected to be Aaron’s heir in Atlanta, he blossomed into an All-Star outfielder with the Dodgers. Eventually, he extended his career in uniform as a batting coach and manager.

With the Nationals, he has the National League’s best player in Bryce Harper and two of its best pitchers in Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. Landing Daniel Murphy as a free agent helped; the ex-Met postseason stud has spent most of this year leading the league in hitting.

Even the losses of Zimmermann and fellow starter Doug Fister, both lost through free agency, haven’t

Even Jonathan Papelbon is back in the good graces of Dusty Baker

Even Jonathan Papelbon is back in the good graces of Dusty Baker

proven too difficult. Tanner Roark, for one, has filled in nicely. And veteran lefty Gio Gonzalez is still going strong.

Even Jonathan Papelbon, the closer, has calmed down after his celebrated dugout fight with Harper last September.

Washington has plenty of wallop, starting with Harper but also including Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Anthony Rendon, and the surprising Wilson Ramos, who should be the starting catcher for the NL in the All-Star Game.

Unlike the tightly-wound Matt Williams, Baker is the perfect guy to guide that youthful and talented dugout. Unlike the New York Mets, who rely far too heavily on the long ball, Washington has multiple ways to win. Despite its current slump, the Nationals figure to be a force well into October.

Elsewhere in baseball:

The Atlanta Braves are deluged with trade offers for their two best arms, starter Julio Teheran and closer Arodys Vizcaino . . .

Jose Reyes, working his way into shape with the Brooklyn Cyclones, will play third base and center field with the Mets even though he has never played an inning at either position . . .

Nolan Arenado is the best third baseman in the National League. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports

Nolan Arenado is the best third baseman in the National League. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports

If Nolan Arenado (Rockies) isn’t the starting third baseman for the National League All-Stars, there should be a federal investigation . . .

Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner is serious about wanting to participate in the Home Run Derby the night before the San Diego All-Star Game . . .

Wondering whether Minnesota’s awful play will cost Hall of Famer Paul Molitor his job — especially after the Phillies fired Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg last summer . . .

Ryan Howard, striking out at an alarming pace for the Phils, would make a good lefthanded DH for an American League team . . .

Don’t look now but the Miami Marlins are quietly sneaking into the NL East title chase . . .

Yes, Virginia, the Cleveland Indians are still thriving in the American League Central.

 

 

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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