With four games remaining on the regular season schedule and the division decided weeks ago, manager Dusty Baker is hearing questions about the upcoming post season start to dominate his pregame news conferences.
The Nationals know they will face the defending champion Chicago Cubs in the National League Division Series beginning Friday, October 6 at Nats Park.
Thursday against the Pirates, Baker was asked how he would set the lineup for this weekend. In game one, Bryce Harper is taking a day off to rest after playing two games in Philadelphia. Besides Harper, the lineup is still without several regulars: Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Trea Turner and Matt Wieters.
“I’m giving a bunch of them off today,” Baker said. “This has been the worst scheduling ever (seen) in my life since I’ve been in the big leagues. I’ve never gotten anywhere as late as I have here, probably half a dozen times maybe 3, 3:30, 4 o’clock (in the morning). Yesterday’s game had a lot to do with that. That takes away to me some of our home field advantage getting in that late because I got get certain guys days off to keep them sharp and healthy for the future.
“So, you add up a half a dozen of those games or more that you do per year I’m not out there with my No. 1 lineup for sake of preservation. I hope the league addresses that next year and have more day games on getaway days.”
Of course, Major League Baseball released the 2018 regular season schedule September 12. But Baker would still like to see the schedule show some relief for getaway days: making them early afternoon starts so clubs could get to their destination cities at a reasonable time.
With the National clinching on September 10, the final few weeks have been about staying healthy and getting ready for the playoffs. Baker was asked if he felt that it had been a quiet season because the team was in first place for the whole season, except for three days in mid-April (12-15). He said not in the least.
“It hadn’t been quiet at all. Not over here,” Baker said. “Maybe quiet for you guys, no controversy or anything. But it ain’t been quiet over here. These guys know what they have to do. I don’t think they need any speeches or anything, I gave all those in spring training. They’ve adhered to everything that I’ve asked for. No complaining, giving me hustle.”
Baker said the makeup of his 95-63 squad has been the reason they have maintained a nice tempo and focus and piled up the wins.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them,” Baker said. “I’d like to think that I’ve contributed some to them but it’s mostly them. Coaches coach and players play. These guys know. You got guys like Jayson Werth, who’s been there a number of times, and Murphy, who was just there a couple of years in a row. Some of the other guys that have been there - Howie Kendrick. You look at Scherzer, the guy that wants the ball and he wants it in the big game. It’s a pretty cool group of guys. Pretty calm group of guys but also we have some fierce competitors in there. It’s going to be nice.”
The Nationals announced outfielder Daniel Johnson has been named the 2017 Minor League Player of the Year, right-handed pitcher Wander Suero the 2017 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, and catcher Raudy Read as the recipient of the fifth-annual Bob Boone Award. Johnson, Suero and Read will be honored prior to Sunday’s regular season finale.
The Bob Boone award is named after the former Major League baseball catcher and current Nats vice president, senior advisor to the general manager. The award is given to the player that best demonstrates the professionalism, leadership, loyalty, passion, selflessness, durability, determination and work ethic required to play the game the ‘Washington Nationals Way.’
The 22-year old Johnson hit .298 with 29 doubles, four triples, 22 home runs, 72 RBI, 35 walks, 22 stolen bases and 83 runs scored in 130 games between Single-A Hagerstown and Single-A Potomac.
The 26-year-old Suero led the Nats system with 20 saves, going 3-2 with a 1.79 ERA with 65 strikeouts in 54 games between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse.
The 23-year-old Read spent the entire Minor League season with Double-A Harrisburg, hitting .265 with 25 doubles, one triple, 17 homers and 61 RBIs. He is currently with the Nats as a September call-up.