Nationals

Quick Links

Dusty Baker says he was rooting for the Astros over the Nationals in 2019 World Series

Dusty Baker says he was rooting for the Astros over the Nationals in 2019 World Series

When the Washington Nationals announced that Dusty Baker wouldn't return as manager for the 2018 season, he thought he was finished coaching baseball for good. During his time off, he assumed a fan's perspective — even rooting for the Astros to beat his most-recent club in the 2019 World Series.

"Don't tell the Nationals, I was rooting for this team to beat the Nationals," Baker said during his introductory press conference with Houston on Thursday.

Of the 25-man roster for the 2017 NLDS, Baker's last series as the Nationals' manager, nine players were on the 2019 World Series roster. Two other 2019 World Series players — Adam Eaton and Joe Ross — were on the 2017 roster, but were on the disabled list during the postseason. Despite the roster including 11 Nationals he previously managed in Washington, Baker pledged his allegiance to the other side. 

As Baker was relegated to a fan the last two seasons, it looked as if his managerial career was, in fact, finished. That all changed this offseason when the Astros sign-stealing scandal sent shockwaves through the sport. 

Three managers, including former Astros' head man A.J. Hinch, lost their job as a result of the investigation, which confirmed Houston used a video feed to decode the catcher's signs and relay upcoming pitches by banging a dugout trash can.

Baker's hiring in Houston figures to provide a steadying presence as the organization faces scrutiny for the scandal that occurred during its run to the 2017 World Series title. 

"This is my last hurrah," Baker said. "I thought my last hurrah was in Washington, actually, because I gave all my stuff away."

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS:

Quick Links

Will Juan Soto follow the same path as Mookie Betts?

Will Juan Soto follow the same path as Mookie Betts?

The gasps came again in New York on Wednesday, this time when Juan Soto ripped his hands in and then through a slider which meandered up and inside. The resulting fly ball went 466 feet to right field, confusing camera operators and announcers alike. Nationals play-by-play man Bob Carpenter, calling road games from Nationals Park, wasn’t quite sure where the ball went or landed because it left camera view. The Mets’ broadcasting crew had a better view in Citi Field. Ron Darling uttered a precise summary while the ball traveled: “Whoa.”

Soto hit a 463-foot home run two days earlier which drew similar awe. Darling said then he had never seen a ball hit to that part of Citi Field -- dead center beyond the iconic rising apple. And, what Soto is doing overall is rarely seen. He’s hit two of the five longest home runs in Citi Field since 2015 (Nos. 3 and 5, respectively) in three days. He tied Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Robinson with 60 home runs before turning 22 years old thanks to the two he hit Wednesday night. Only four players -- Mel Ott, Tony Conigliaro, Eddie Matthews and Ronald Acuña Jr. -- have more before that age. Soto turns 22 on Oct. 25. He is being shorted 109 games this season because of the abbreviated schedule and his late start in it. Yet, he’s still chasing down history.

The short season makes comparison points for his future fluid. However, he is running steady with the early days of one player in particular: Mookie Betts. The far-away question for the Nationals is whether their paths when no longer under team control will go the same.

First, to now. Soto’s first home run Wednesday prompted a response from the official NASA Twitter account when it was asked to locate the launch to right field (“We'll look for it when we get back to the Moon in 2024. Cool?”). But, there was a detail attached to his second home run which may be more telling of his actual ability.

Left-handed Mets reliever Chasen Shreve was able to get Soto to rollover a fastball away for a double play in the third inning. Left-handed pitchers typically try for this precise outcome from Soto by pitching him outside. He often foils it by not taking the bait and instead taking a walk or pushing the ball the other way. Against Shreve, Soto left his principles: he swung at a pitch outside of the strike zone and did so with more of a hook swing than one designed to drive the ball somewhere between left-center field and right-center field. Stay through the middle and good things will happen. It’s a mantra for him. He vacated the idea, then pulled his helmet off at first base and bounced it off the ground following the double play.

He faced another left-handed pitcher in his next at-bat. Justin Wilson tried the same approach as Shreve. He was throwing away, but not far enough. A fastball caught the outside portion of the plate. Soto had cleared his head, drove through the pitch, and hit an opposite-field home run. That, more than distance, shows mental genius at 21 years old.

“He makes in-game adjustments better than any young hitter I’ve ever seen,” Davey Martinez said.

RELATED: SOTO BLASTS LONGEST HOME RUN OF HIS CAREER AGAIN

Now, to the future, via the past. Betts came up as a 21-year-old in Boston. Soto is 21. Betts played half a season at that age, moved to 19th in American League MVP voting the following year, then put his name among the elite his third season when he finished second in MVP voting. He also won a Gold Glove and went to the All-Star Game. Betts pulled together a 9.5 bWAR season in 2016 as a 23-year-old outfielder.

Soto finished second to Acuña Jr. in National League Rookie of the Year voting in his first season. He ascended to ninth in NL MVP voting as a 20-year-old via a 4.6 bWAR season. His current OPS is 1.444. It won’t last. And, this is not a full season to chase Betts’ MVP-runner-up numbers. It does indicate further ascension.

It is also another year of Soto’s service-time clock. The Nationals hold team control of Soto until 2025. Next year he will again make a pittance relative to his peers, when he receives a slight raise from the $629,400 he is making this year. The following year, 2022, he can start to cash in  via arbitration. His salary will progressively climb year after year from there -- with several chances to set a record for arbitration pay should his play be maintained.

The rub arrives in 2025. Soto can become a free agent that year. So can Victor Robles. And, Soto is represented by Scott Boras, who is loathe to do anything other than enter free agency with his clients.

CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE TO THE NATIONALS TALK PODCAST

So, the Nationals will eventually be faced with a similar decision the Boston Red Sox needed to make with Betts: can they afford their star? If not, should he be traded?

Boston was in a bind. It dumped current cash (David Price) and future cash (Betts) in exchange for three prospects. In essence, it was an organizational reboot.

The Nationals don’t tend to operate that way. They have not been forced to rebuild since the initial buildup from franchise newbie to contender was completed. They also do not want to exceed the Competitive Balance Tax whenever possible, pick singular spots for big contracts and are yet to approach Soto about an extension. Needing to choose between him and Robles complicates the process further.

So, for now, maybe it’s best to watch the mammoth homers, listen to out-of-town announcers react with shock, then giggle at tweets from NASA. Four more years of Soto in Washington are guaranteed. Nothing beyond that is.

Stay connected to the Nationals with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS:

Quick Links

WATCH: Juan Soto blasts longest home run of career for the second time this series

WATCH: Juan Soto blasts longest home run of career for the second time this series

All Juan Soto does is make our jaws drop.

The Nats slugger has been an elite hitter since they day he joined the big league club, but this week, he's tapped into his power unlike ever before. On Monday in New York, he crushed a home run 463 feet, farther than any Met at Citi Field in the Statcast era.

Wednesday night, still against the Mets, he topped himself.

CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE TO THE NATIONALS TALK PODCAST

Two days after hitting the longest home run of his career, Soto hit the new longest home run of his career. Wednesday's bomb was also, unsurprisingly, the hardest-hit home run of his career at 112.9 mph off the bat. Couple that with a 33-degree launch angle, and it's no surprise just how far the ball flew.

In one series, Soto has now hit two of the five longest home runs at Citi Field since 2015. Everytime we think Soto can't possibly top himself, he finds away to do just that. At this rate, it won't be a surprise to see him top this list, and plenty of others, when it's all said and done.

Stay connected to the Nationals with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS: