Baker expects Votto to handle MVP treatment well

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Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker thinks that Joey Votto, fresh off winning the NL MVP award, will begin to be treated like great MVPs of the past by opposing pitchers.

Baker, speaking on Saturday at spring training camp in Goodyear, Ariz., said he noticed some special treatment from pitchers last season, when Votto hit .324 with 37 home runs and a 1.024 OPS.

“You saw last year how they started pitching him tougher and started pitching around him,” said Baker, who guided the Reds to their first playoff appearance in 15 seasons. “It’s the same thing Albert (Pujols) has been going through for seven, eight years now. I saw Barry Bonds go through it.”

Baker said it would be key for whoever hits in the clean-up spot behind Votto – a group that could include Scott Rolen, Johnny Gomes, Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips – to play well to keep pitchers from ducking Votto.

“I remember when I was a kid, 22 years old, I was hitting behind Hank Aaron,” Baker said. “Hank told me ‘No. 1, don’t strike out when they do that. No. 2 try to keep the ball off the ground because they want you to hit into a double play. And just get some singles and doubles and you’ll stop them from pitching around me so much.’”

Baker said that Votto, a patient hitter who walked 91 times in 2010, was well equipped to handle the situation.

“For a young player he has a very good idea of what he’s trying to do, and an even better idea of what they’re trying to do to him. … When is a guy throwing me bait? Is he afraid of me? That’s the one thing I know about Barry Bonds, he could recognize fear quick as anything. He was like that dog that’s barking at that postman. That dog recognizes fear.”

Seeing as how Votto hit zero infield popups while compiling his monster 2010 season, there should be plenty of fear around the NL this season.

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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.