The Washington Nationals lost blew another game on Monday night, this time to the Cardinals (box score). Regarding the use of his bullpen, after the game embattled Nationals manager offered this up: 

Credit him for his honesty, but comments like that give people reasons to say the first-year skipper isn't up to the task of leading a contender. 

I couldn't help but think back to last October, when Nationals general manager made yet another managerial change. A few days after losing a gut-punch of an NLDS in five games, the Nationals fired then-manager Dusty Baker by phone. Why? 

"They just told me they wanted to go in a different direction, that was it,'' Baker told USA Today. "I'm surprised and disappointed."

The move didn't seem to surprise anyone outside of Baker. This has been the MO of the Nationals front office, headed up by general manager Mike Rizzo and surely there are hands from the Lerner family ownership group involved here. 

In 2011, the Nationals were turning things around. They would go 80-81 that season after three straight last-place finishes. Things were starting to turn. Also in 2011, Jim Riggleman stepped down after Rizzo refused to pick up his 2012 option. The Nats had won 11 of their last 12 at the time. 

That actually turned out to be good for the Nationals, as they ended up with Davey Johnson. Still, it seems to fit a pattern at this point. After Johnson retired, Rizzo hired Matt Williams, who had one good year but lost the locker room in Year 2. After firing Williams, Rizzo was set to hire Bud Black, but would only offer a one-year deal. Baker was his fallback guy. 

Still, it looked like Rizzo had finally gotten this one right. The Nationals won 192 regular-season games in Baker's two seasons and took the NL East two straight years for the first time in club history. They were bounced in the NLDS in five games by the Cubs, but let's review that series. 

First of all, a Max Scherzer injury prevented him from starting until Game 3. If that didn't happen, it was likely the Nationals would have lined up Scherzer for Games 1 and 4 and then Stephen Strasburg for Games 2 and 5. Apparently the eye wash that was firing Baker was more important to Rizzo than that context. Or this context: 

In that crazy Game 5 loss to the Cubs, Javier Baez struck out in a play that would have ended the inning. Only the pitch got away from catcher Matt Wieters and Baez's follow through ended up hitting Wieters. By rule, Baez should have been called out. Instead, the umpiring crew missed the call and that allowed the Cubs to score two more runs. The Cubs won by one. 

So I'll ask again: Did the Nationals really need to fire Dusty Baker? 

Two prongs here bother me. 

  1. Baker seems to have far more stigma surrounding him than any other manager in history. Things happen to him and it's immediately "LOL Dusty!" when other guys might get a pass. In 22 years as a manager, Baker has gone to the playoffs nine times with four different teams. He was fired by the Reds after going to the playoffs in three of his last four seasons. He was fired by the Nationals after going to the playoffs twice. Yes, that's five out of his last six teams that have been in the postseason and he's been canned twice. Ridiculous. This isn't 2003 anymore. Also, this isn't a "hindsight is 20/20" situation. I wrote a lot more words on this topic last October when the Nationals fired Baker.
  2. The Nationals have had six different managers since the beginning of 2011, despite being one of the most successful teams in baseball in that stretch. This isn't counting the swing-and-miss with Black, either. Yes, that's only applicable in the regular season, but smart baseball people should know the postseason can be a crapshoot. I mean, Ned Yost won a World Series. You're telling me you'd take him over Dusty? Please. 

And now, here we are with easily the most disappointing team in baseball. It's a veteran team that has won together being led by a first-year manager who at times appears in over his head. I'm not saying this all the fault of Martinez. After all, he's not the one who ditched two quality bullpen arms and tried to replace them with what's left of Greg Holland

I'm just saying that Mike Rizzo's track record with managers looks pretty awful and Dusty Baker deserved/deserves a lot better.