The funny thing, no matter what Dusty Baker’s rep is, and will be, is that he’s gotten more looks at the postseason than many. While he’ll always wear the epic choke jobs of the Giants in 2002 and the Cubs in 2003 — fair or not — his time in D.C. and in Houston has shown a guy who has learned how playoff baseball works. He’s usually been pretty aggressive getting to his bullpen, ready to wheel back a starter if need be in relief, and treated the next out as the only out that matters. That’s how you do it.
For some reason, in this World Series, someone zapped him back nearly 20 years.
Baker was too slow to recognize in Game 1 that Justin Verlander was never going to get through the Phillies lineup a second time, and that he’d lost command of basically all his pitches. Baker had a fully rested bullpen after sweeping the New York Yankees, and only had two games to worry about before another off-day. You can basically go whole hog on your bullpen in Games 1 and 2, especially when they’ve had three full days off from the end of the last series. Dusty and the Astros may never get that win back.
He may have done it again for Game 3. Now whether Lance McCullers was tipping his pitches or not is certainly not Dusty’s fault. What is, or may be, is that with the rainout pushing the game back a day, Baker had the option of skipping over McCullers altogether. Joe Sheehan was beating this drum all day yesterday, as the Phils were a top-10 hitting team against sliders and curves all season. All McCullers throws are sliders and cutters, and clearly was a worse matchup for the Astros than Christian Javier, who thanks to the bonus off-day was available to start Game 3, with Verlander available to start Game 4, and Framber Valdez available to start Game 5, all on normal rest. The option of never offering the Phillies a look at a breaking-ball-only pitcher was on the table. Baker didn’t take it, and his team lost by a touchdown. There’s not much Baker can do about his lineup going missing, and they barely even put together competitive ABs, but this felt like a mistake.
That doesn’t mean the Phils are helpless against fastballs. They were 10th in wOBA against four-seamers all season. If you restrict that to fastballs at or over 95 MPH, they drop all the way down to 22nd with a .291 mark. Javier averages 94 MPH on his fastball, but one could say that with World Series adrenaline and a directive that he would only go through the lineup twice, at most, he could live in the range that Philly finds so difficult to deal with. We’ll see how it plays out in Game 4 tonight, obviously.
Again, it’s hardly Baker’s fault if McCullers was signaling unintentionally to the Phillies what he was throwing all night. Without the purported tipping, maybe he twirls a gem anyway and this is all moot. But this felt like the second time in three games that Baker didn’t take advantage of the options that were open to him. Now his team is down 2-1. They’ll have to beat two of Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Ranger Suarez, and maybe all three to win the Series. Trickier now as they’ve already beaten Wheeler once, and had Nola beaten, and it’s hard to fathom that given proper health (no sure thing with Wheeler reportedly) those two will back up a poor start with another one.
Once again, it felt like Baker reverted to the old version of being stuck in his ways, ways that dictated that Verlander can’t be pulled with a lead because he’s Justin Verlander, and ways that said to not deviate from how the rotation was set before the series no matter what. It’s becoming a trend for him, for sure.
I want to buy this Leon Draisaitl pass an expensive cocktail and maybe some sort of arty pot sticker: