Dusty Baker heading to the playoffs at the helm of his fifth team
Dusty Baker knew stepping into the firestorm that awaited the Houston Astros this season was going to be difficult, but he couldn’t have foreseen just how challenging it was going to be.
Reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander played just one game before heading to the IL with an elbow injury that will require Tommy John surgery; Yordan Alvarez, the 2019 AL Rookie of the Year, has played two games. The Astros lost their closer, Roberto Osuna, in the first week of the season. Injuries to their pitching staff forced the Astros to use 10 rookie pitchers this season.
The players who did play failed to meet expectations. Jose Altuve has hit just four home runs in 45 games and saw his OPS drop nearly 300 points, from .903 in 2019 to .629 this year. Alex Bregman, who finished runner-up in MVP balloting a year ago after hitting 41 home runs, has five this year, his batting average declining by more than 50 points.
The Astros scored just 4.74 runs per game this season, down nearly a full run from 2019. Last year, they led the league with a .274 average and .495 slugging percentage; they rank 19th and 16th, respectively, in those categories in 2020.
And then there was Trash Can-Gate, a sign-stealing scandal that earned the Astros the animosity of every other team in the league and even some pitches near the head from the Dodgers’ Joe Kelly.
Through it all, though, Baker has been a steady presence in the clubhouse in his first season as the replacement for the fired A.J. Hinch. He has the Astros headed back to the postseason, clinching on Friday night despite losing to the Texas Rangers. Baker is now the first manager in MLB history to take five teams to the playoffs.
Regular season success is nothing new to Baker. He’s reached the postseason in 10 of his 23 seasons as a manager, including five in a row and six of the last seven. He has a career record above .500 with four of his five teams. He ranks 15th all-time in wins and has a career winning percentage of .532.
It’s in the playoffs where Baker has consistently come up short. His teams haven’t advanced past the Wild Card round since 2003. His winning percentage in the postseason is only .418. Of the 20 managers with the most career wins, only he and Gene Mauch have never won a World Series.
Baker had change that this season, behind a team that came just eight outs away in last year’s World Series. The Astros had several obstacles put in their way—a lot of them, frankly, of their own making—but, thanks to Baker, they’re right back where they should be.