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Series Preview: Dusty Baker returns to Great American Ball Park

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St Louis Cardinals v Washington Nationals Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Game Times and Probable Pitchers

Great American Ball Park

Friday, June 3, 2016, 7:10pm EDT: LHP Gio Gonzalez vs. LHP Brandon Finnegan

Saturday, June 4, 2016, 4:10pm EDT: RHP Stephen Strasburg vs. RHP Dan Straily

Sunday, June 5, 2016, 1:10pm EDT: LHP Tanner Roark vs. RHP Jon Moscot

Dusty Baker will make his return to the friendly confines of Great American Ball Park since being unceremoniously let go after his 2013 Reds squad sputtered to the finish line in 2013, ultimately losing to the Pirates in the one-game-playoff. He'll be doing it with a vastly superior club than the once familiar one he'll be facing this weekend.

Normally, missing Max Scherzer's turn in the rotation is a great thing, but Max Scherzer is great. That's still undeniably true! But, when it comes down to some of the metrics, he's actually been the weak link in a very strong Nationals rotation.

Friday's starter Gio Gonzalez is doing what he's always done; be a dependable, above-average major league starter. 2014 and 2015 were somewhat down years as the left-hander dealt with shoulder issues, and the 30 year old probably won't be finishing third in Cy Young voting against anytime soon, but overall he's getting the job done.

His BB9 of 2.6 is the lowest of his career (though it's certainly possible that 1 point he's shaved off is the meatballs he's throwing that has caused his HR9 to jump to 1.1, the second highest of his career). The 3.57 ERA is the same pace he put up in an injury shortened 2014, but relative to the league Gio's been the best he's been since 2013.

The book is out on Stephen Strasburg: he's still really damn good. Last season's injury-riddled campaign brought up legitimate questions about that status of Strasburg's arm, but when he finally returned for good in August, he put up a 1.90 ERA over his final 66 innings. This year, he's been one of the best in the game, with nine wins in 11 tries and a 2.69 ERA. Over his last 155 innings pitched, Strasburg owns a 2.20 ERA to go along with 200 strikeouts. He's good. And he's back.

Sunday starter Tanner Roark has been a pleasant surprise for the Nats this year after coming off an abysmal 2015 season. 2014 saw Roark pitch extremely well, posting a 2.85 ERA over 31 starts. The National bounced him back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen in 2015. Roark struggled for a 91 ERA+. He's flourished in a starter's role again, good for a 2.70 ERA over 70 innings.

All told, for a Reds offense that's been scuffling for, well, a whole season now, this staff is going to be a tough test.


C Wilson Ramos

1B Ryan Zimmerman

2B Daniel Murphy

SS Danny Espinosa

3B Anthony Rendon

LF Jayson Werth

CF Michael Taylor

RF Bryce Harper

Only thing I'll say about the reigning MVP: Bryce Harper is very, very good. We'll close the book on that for now.

Daniel Murphy, on the other hand, has taken this whole "playoff hot streak" to an obscene, offensive level. How well he's doing actually slightly pisses me off for reason that I can't quite put into words. I can only think, "Pshaw, he's not that good!" while looking at his line for so long before I'm just an idiot.

For instance, take this excerpt from Thomas Boswell's column in the Washington Post:

This year, Murphy is hitting .394 for the Nationals. After a third of this season, he’s on pace for 234 hits, 45 doubles, 27 homers and 102 RBI. This is insanity. Every one of those numbers explodes the evidence of Murphy’s previous 10 seasons as a pro.

Absurd, right? How is this happening? A 30 year old, average baseball player doesn't remake himself in the image of Bonds overnight. At least, you know, not naturally.

The article above attributes a new swing and approach. Because it's just that easy, right?

Maybe it is.

We'll select some endpoints, but despite ending that postseason and the World Series in a 3-20 swoon, taken as a whole, Murphy slashed .328/.391/.724 for October, and was just as big of a reason that the Mets won the pennant as their formidable rotation was.

The Boswell piece is a good read if you want a lot of perspective on how Daniel went out with the old Murphy and in with the new. I'm content just to sit here and shake my head at his triple slash and wait for Daniel Murphy to be Daniel Murphy again.


Jonathan Papelbon

Felipe Rivero

Blake Treinen

Shawn Kelley

Oliver Perez

Yusmeiro Petit

Sammy Solis

Jonathan Papelbon is in town. Watch your head and especially your neck.

So, somewhat surprisingly, the Nationals bullpen is good. Generally focused on as the weakest part of the unit as a whole, the Nats bullpen ranks among the top in ERA and K/BB ratio. Did Dusty Baker become the pitcher whisperer?

Shawn Kelley is pitching out of his mind, with a 282 ERA+ after 18 innings (1.50 ERA). He's striking out 12 per 9, walking only 2, with a WHIP sitting at 0.889. It's early, but the three year, $15 million deal that Kelley inked in the offseason is paying off for the Nats.

Otherwise, the the Nats bullpen just really hasn't been asked to do all that much because of the aforementioned buzzsaw of a rotation. The Nationals bullpen ranks near the bottom in bullpen innings pitched. The less opportunities a bullpen gets to blow the game, the better.

Just ask the Reds.


They both wear red. Both teams have been managed by Dusty Baker. Neither has had recent success in the playoffs, despite being very good at various times over the last five years. Both feature former MVPs.

I mean, they're not so different, right?

Oh. One team is in first place in the surprisingly competitive NL East. The other is in dead last in the surprisingly not-as-competitive NL Central. One team has been doling out serious money to get over the aforementioned playoff hump. The other is in full on sell off mode.

You see where this is going.

And here I am, 1000+ words into this preview without mentioning that Dusty Baker probably wants nothing more than for his first place current team to drub his last place former team. Didn't even mention, in the section about their new second baseman, that the Nats just about acquired the Reds second baseman, had he not had his druthers about leaving the Queen City (and the fact that they should be thanking their lucky stars that said Reds second baseman felt that way).

So, here I am, 1100+ words into this preview, and I'll spare you the mention about how I see this particular series playing out.

Hey, Dusty. It's good to see you.

Further Reading (replete with Dustyisms!):

"He's at a very high concentration level..." Dusty Baker on NL Player of the Month Daniel Murphy - Federal Baseball

"He's not called the 'Buffalo' for nothing. I've never seen a skinny buffalo, unless he's real sick, so it's not surprising..." Dusty Baker on Wilson Ramos's 374 ft bomb off Phillies Adam Morgan - Federal Baseball

BONUS: Chris Speier and the Phillie Phanatic