NEW YORK - Dusty Baker has been doing this - and by “this” we’re talking about playing, coaching and managing in the major leagues - long enough to know what he should and not worry about.
And Baker legitimately was worried about the road trip his Nationals began a week ago, when they departed D.C. following Bryce Harper’s walk-off homer to beat the Phillies and embarked on a 10-game, 10-day, three-city excursion through Atlanta, New York and Colorado.
Baker’s worries about this trip may yet prove founded, because there’s still tonight’s finale against the Mets and then four games in the thin air of Coors Field to go. But with the first half of the jaunt now complete, the Nationals having gone 5-0, it’s hard to be anything but extremely encouraged at the moment.
“You know, every good team, you have to play good on the road,” Baker said after Saturday’s 3-1 victory. “So we got a good head start. You want to be .500 or better on the road, most of my teams are. Most of it is just sheer determination and playing good ball. And you got to have good pitching. You have to have good pitching help, because the ninth inning is tough, the bottom of the ninth. That bottom of the ninth ... even when I was a kid, me and my brother played. Who would have last ups? And he’d always want first ups, and I’d always want last ups.”
Despite a near-disaster Tuesday night in Atlanta, when Blake Treinen had to pulled with one out in the bottom of the ninth and then C.B. Bucknor forced Shawn Kelley to strike out Chase d’Arnaud twice instead of the conventional one time, the Nationals have excelled at finishing off games on this trip.
The bullpen is 4-for-4 in save opportunities over the last five days, having tossed nine innings of scoreless, one-hit ball over the last three days.
The pitching staff as a whole has posted a 2.11 ERA during the road trip, surrendering a scant 29 hits in 47 innings.
“That’s a good feeling right there,” left-hander Gio Gonzalez said. “Your starters are going deep in the game. It’s fun. These guys are just trying to piggyback off each other. And our bullpen’s been solid. These guys have been helping us out as much as possible. Some of these guys have been pitching back-to-back-to-back days. It’s good to see that everybody’s picking up each other in the bullpen. It’s a nice sound when they come in here and celebrate 6-7 innings from your starter. That’s a good thing.”
Yes, indeed. The Nationals rotation has set the tone with five quality starts during this 5-0 road trip. Overall this season, the rotation has produced 15 quality starts in 17 games.
The manager likes that, though he also has been around long enough not to let himself get too excited over the fact, given the talent he has in that five-man rotation.
“That’s what you’re supposed to do,” Baker said. “I’m serious. That’s what’s you’re getting paid to do. That doesn’t mean you always do it, because the opposition has a lot to say about it. But I don’t give away awards for what you’re supposed to do. I’m serious. I’m not being facetious. That’s my reaction.”
Max Scherzer will look to continue that streak tonight when the Nationals go for the sweep on Sunday Night Baseball. Then the team will board its charter plane for a very late-night flight to Denver, landing sometime around 5 a.m. EDT (3 a.m. MDT), get as much rest as possible and then head right to Coors Field for Monday’s opener of a four-game series in the toughest pitcher’s park in baseball.
The road trip doesn’t get any easier, and Baker knows that. But he also knows this: Even if they don’t win another game before returning home, the Nationals will have gone .500 on the trip.
That’s an awfully nice position to find yourself in right now.