What we're watching – May 29

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– After nine straight losses on the road, the Blue Jays finally return
home tonight. Unfortunately, they’ll be facing the Red Sox, who started
off Toronto’s losing streak with a three-game sweep at Fenway last
week. The winning pitcher in the first game of that series, Tim
Wakefield, will be back on the mound for this one. He allowed one run
over eight innings in his previous start against the Jays, and he’s 6-2
with a 3.99 ERA for the season, making him Boston’s most effective
pitcher so far. The Blue Jays will give Casey Janssen his second start
of the year. Janssen, making his way back from shoulder surgery,
allowed three runs over six innings in a loss to Atlanta six days ago.

– The surging Yankees will start a series tonight in Cleveland,
where the Indians just pulled off a four-game sweep of the Rays. Andy
Pettitte gets the nod for the Yankees against one of only two AL teams
he’s under .500 against in his career (Seattle being the other). The
Indians will go to Cliff Lee, who beat the Yankees on April 16 for one
of his two victories so far this season. Aside from that game, which
Cleveland won 10-2, the Indians have totaled 19 runs in Lee’s nine
starts.

Game of the Night

St. Louis vs. San Francisco – A pair of five-game winners will
square off in San Francisco, with Joel Pineiro going against Matt Cain.
Pineiro is inducing grounders at a league-best rate, but he’s lost four
of his last five starts anyway, partly due to poor run support. He has
a shutout and five other quality starts in nine trips to the mound this
season. Cain has won his last two outings and has seven quality starts
to his credit. However, he is 0-1 with a 9.58 ERA in two career starts
against the Cardinals. Albert Pujols has a homer and a double in five
career at-bats against him.

Nationals’ sell-off a vindication for Dusty Baker

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The Nationals threw in the towel on Tuesday, trading second baseman Daniel Murphy to the Cubs and 1B/OF Matt Adams to the Cardinals. The club also placed outfielder and soon-to-be free agent Bryce Harper on revocable waivers but took him back. The Nats’ sell-off is a vindication for former manager Dusty Baker, let go after the Nationals failed to advance past the NLDS for a second straight year.

Baker had roughly the same team current manager Dave Martinez did. It was arguably worse, considering he never wrote Juan Soto‘s name on the lineup card. The 2018 squad, sans Baker, has been marked by mutiny and underachievement. While failing to reach the NLCS in Baker’s two years was disappointing, he took them to Game 5 in the NLDS both years as well as 95 and 97 regular season wins. Right now, Martinez’s squad has a winning percentage more than 100 points lower than Baker’s last year. They’re on pace to go 80-82, which would be their first sub-.500 season since 2011.

Baker has always had an undeserved bad rap. He was, correctly, blamed for the Cubs’ demise, due somewhat to Kerry Wood and Mark Prior falling apart, ostensibly from overuse. However, after his stint in Chicago, Baker took the lowly Reds from the bottom of the NL Central to the top in two years between 2008-10. Then he took the Nationals, which had won a meager 83 games in 2015 and had made the playoffs just twice since moving from Montreal, to two consecutive NLDS Game 5’s.

Not much changed from 2017 to ’18. Martinez inherited Ryan Zimmerman, Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, Michael Taylor, Bryce Harper, Adam Eaton, Daniel Murphy, Matt Wieters, Max Scherzer, Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, Brandon Kintzler, Shawn Kelley, and Koda Glover, among others. But for one reason or another — injuries, admittedly, make up one reason — almost all of these players are having worse years under Martinez than under Baker. Describing the 2018 team to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, Baker said, “They’re together, but they’re separate.”

Is it strictly Baker that would make the difference? No, of course not. But the Nationals organization seems unwilling or unable to address issues that may extend into the front office. The Nats seem happy to go through a new manager every couple of years and hope that fixes all that ails them. Since Frank Robinson’s five years at the helm from 2002-06, Manny Acta managed two and a half years, Jim Riggleman one and a half, Davey Johnson two, Matt Williams two, Baker two. Maybe the problem was never the manager. Perhaps the problem is the Lerner family and Mike Rizzo.