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Baker, Rizzo don't buy criticism manager is too old school

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Baker, Rizzo don't buy criticism manager is too old school

The mere mention of Dusty Baker's name when candidates began surfacing in the Nationals' managerial search brought strong reactions from all around. Many were thrilled at the news, pointing to his impressive record as a three-time NL manager of the year. Others, however, were not quite as enthused.

Criticism emerged of Baker being too old school: Is he averse to using analytics, which have become commonplace in today's game? Is he simply too old to take on the challenge of restoring the Nationals to prominence?

Baker touched on all those subjects at Thursday's introductory press conference, and so did general manager Mike Rizzo. You may be concerned about Baker's ability to adapt and learn new tricks, but they aren't.

"Well, I was pretty good before I got here. Adaptation is no problem for me. My friends call me a chameleon because I can adapt to any time and anywhere," Baker said.

Baker's affinity for music is well-documented. He currently has a book for sale that chronicles his time at the 1967 Monterrey Pop Festival and a later experience where he smoked a substance now legal in D.C. with Jimi Hendrix. And much like music can stand the test of time, so can Baker, according to the manager.

"I would like to think I transcend some generations like some musicians. Stevie Wonder still sounds good. The Doors might sound even better. I believe in old ideas but you have to translate them in modern ways so that they can understand," he said.

Baker said his family helps keep him young. He has a 16-year-old son who in two years will play baseball for the Cal Bears. He has a 36-year-old daughter and a wife who he says is "50-something." They are all younger than Baker and they all represent different generations.

"Sometimes you gotta listen to the young to keep a pulse on things," he said.

Baker's defense of himself was strong, but Rizzo took it up a notch. He went into extensive detail about how Baker gets a bad wrap that is unfair if you pay attention to the details of what he has accomplished in his career.

"He's often described as an old school, dinosaur-type of a manager but yet was 13th in shifting in Major League Baseball in his last year as a manager," Rizzo explained. "He's famous for handling of players and handling of the clubhouse and that type of thing. But when you look harder and dig deeper and you watch the man navigate nine innings of a baseball game, it is truly something to watch when you're really looking in-depth."

True to form, Rizzo did his research. He spoke to former players of Dusty's including Jay Bruce and Joey Votto. He relied heavily on the opinion of Reds manager Bryan Price, who replaced Baker when he was fired after the 2013 season. Price previously served as Baker's pitching coach before getting promoted.

Rizzo and Price were minor league teammates and have remained very close friends. Price is one of the people in baseball Rizzo trusts the most and his review was very positive.

"[Baker has] always been a creative thinker, an outside the box thinker. He is certainly not a manage by the numbers type of manager, but he should get far more credit than he does for what he does in between the lines and in the dugout as he does for how he handles the clubhouse, which is impeccable," Rizzo continued.

Baker may not manage by the numbers, but he will be receptive to data provided by the Nationals' analytics department. According to Rizzo, Baker met with some of the Nats' sabremetrics guys before the decision was made to hire him.

"It was an extremely important part of the interview process. But more than that, we watched how he managed games. The input from a lot of the coaches on that staff, the players that played for him, showed a man that was open-minded and open to change. He's really come a long way in his recent past, especially in those last couple years in Cincinnati. The analytical part of it, it's taken a lot of people a long time to adapt to that. But it's a tool for us. It's a weapon for us.

"He's used it in the past. And he's used it very effectively. So he's on board. He had spoken to people in our analytics department, and he was extremely impressed by them. I think there's a trust factor there that's built right off the bat. He's going to embrace it, because it's going to help us win games. And that's what he's all about."

Baker is confident he can continue to adapt with the Nationals as he moves forward as their manager. He pointed to Mets manager Terry Collins, who is the oldest skipper in the majors and just led his team to an NL pennant.

"I don't think of myself as 66 years old. I don't know how old I am. It really doesn't matter. The way I look at it, not to sound cocky or nothing, but I don't see a bunch of dudes out there who look better than me right now," he said.

 

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Wild-card tracker: Nationals thankful for Marlins, Cubs slide back

Wild-card tracker: Nationals thankful for Marlins, Cubs slide back

Back before all this mania, Miami, as putrid as its season would be, loomed as a factor.

Handling the Marlins would be key for any contender. It wasn’t a question of winning, but of how much winning would occur against one of the league’s worst teams.

Following Friday’s 6-4 win in a sparsely attended Marlins Park, the Nationals moved to 14-3 against Miami this season. They are 16 games over. 500 for the year. They are plus-11 against Miami alone.

Asdrúbal Cabrera homered again, Trea Turner hit two homers, and Daniel Hudson pitched two innings to earn the save. So, the Nationals, 84-68, hold a one-game lead for the top wild-card spot. Milwaukee won again, joining a long list of teams to beat up on the Pittsburgh Pirates since the post-All-Star-break portion of the schedule began. Pittsburgh may be the league’s worst team, at the moment, and the Brewers host it for two more this weekend.

Trouble is brewing for Chicago. It lost again to St. Louis -- this time a 2-1 mid-day defeat in Wrigley Field. The Cubs have lost four in a row. They are three games behind the Nationals and two behind the Brewers. Their path to 90 wins, which may ultimately be the threshold for postseason entrance, is narrowing.

The Mets won their third consecutive game. They are hanging around, 3 ½ games behind the Brewers with nine remaining on the schedule. Their wild-card elimination number is six.

News for Philadelphia is more dire. The Phillies dropped to 78-74 Friday night following a 5-2 loss in Cleveland. They are now five behind Milwaukee. Their wild-card elimination number is a mere five. 

Which brings us to the more detailed math portion of this program. Here are the postseason chances for each team, according to fivethirtyeight.com:

Nationals, 96 percent

Brewers, 84 percent

Cubs, 15 percent

Mets, 5 percent

Phillies, less than one percent

Coming up Saturday:

St. Louis at Chicago, 2:20 p.m., Hudson (16-7, 3.35 ERA) vs. Quintana (13-8, 4.37)

New York at Cincinnati, 4:10 p.m., Wheeler (11-7, 4.09) vs. DeSclafani (9-9, 3.93)

Washington at Miami, 6:10 p.m., Strasburg (17-6, 3.49) vs. Yamamoto (4-5, 4.87)

Philadelphia at Cleveland, 7:10 p.m., Vargas (6-8, 4.48) vs. Plesac (8-6, 3.64)

Pittsburgh at Milwaukee, 7:10 p.m., Marvel (0-2, 9.00) vs. Davies (10-7, 3.70)

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Howie Kendrick needed the Nationals, and they needed him

Howie Kendrick needed the Nationals, and they needed him

Howie Kendrick knew he was in trouble May 19, 2018, when he was down on the warning track and could not control his ankle. His Achilles tendon tore after he moved back for a fly ball in left field. His season ended. His career could have well ended with his season.

Last offseason’s shift in free agency affected those still in their prime. The market tormented Bryce Harper and Manny Machado before forking over large sums. It treated veterans destined to be part-time players worse. Super-utility player Marwin Gonzalez didn’t sign with Minnesota until Feb. 25. He turned 30 in April and was coming off a 2.5-WAR season for a team that went to the American League Championship Series. Yet, he couldn’t find a job anywhere.

This would have been Kendrick’s plight. Perhaps it would have been more challenging. He may never have found a job via a new contract. Think of the advertisement: soon-to-be 36-year-old coming off Achilles tendon tear, with reduced positional flexibility and past hamstring problems, seeks part-time work. 

Kendrick vowed from the start he would be back, healthy, and just ride out the recovery timeline as it was dictated. The second year of his contract made the process easier. It also all but assured him of a job again with Washington. At just $4 million, even as a bench player, Kendrick’s salary was easy to accept. If he showed good health and a quick bat in spring, he would again team with Matt Adams as a potent left-right combination off the bench. The second-year saved him from graveling in the offseason.

“if that was the last year of my deal, I don’t know if I would have been in the Major Leagues this year,” Kendrick said. “Because a lot of times the way the league is now, bringing veteran guys back and being around the game, you don't see too many veteran guys around anymore. 

“Having the ability to come back to a place I really enjoy and get to be around these guys... It's been fun. We got a lot of great young guys here, guys like [Victor Robles], [Juan] Soto, [Anthony] Rendon, [Trea] Turner, those guys they keep you going every day and it's been fun. And it’s been cool to be able to see these guys grow and they've helped me out too with my game.”

Kendrick is having his best offensive season. Delivering it this year became an enormous factor in the Nationals’ survival and turnaround. Ryan Zimmerman has been to the plate 168 times in 2019. Kendrick has filled the gap with one of the most potent part-time -- rightfully not full-time -- bats in the majors.

His OPS-plus is a career-high 142. His second-best season in that category? Back in 2011, when he was 27 years old in Los Angeles. His OPS is 119 points higher than any other season, his slugging percentage 88 points higher. He’s two homers shy of tying his career-best mark despite 237 fewer plate appearances than he had in 2011.

“I'm not an everyday guy anymore and I know that and [Davey Martinez] knows and I'm not going to complain one bit about the way I’ve been used,” Kendrick said. “When I play, I play. When I don't, I’m ready to play and go in the game and I’ve kind of streamlined that process a little more, I’ve figured out, being in the National League how to prepare myself and be ready. 

“We've come up with little drills for when we pinch-hit and things like that to be as ready as we can. And then once you get in the game, whatever’s going to happen is gonna happen, and that’s what I try to look at. Keep the same mindset as hey I prepared and I’m going to go out here and try to do my job and that's' all you can ask for. I think your teammates know that, and I think your coaches know that. I think that’s the biggest part of it, and mentally you just have to know you're not always going to succeed.” 

Though this year, he has -- a lot. 

Kendrick’s career-best season exists because he didn’t have to wade through the market. The second year of his contract provided him a work haven despite his age and major injury. His work during it likely created a chance for him to sign yet another one, something which may have otherwise not happened in the first place.

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