As Joe Sheehan pointed out on his podcast earlier this week, Dusty Baker has managed 20 years in the major leagues and won just three postseason series. Including Wednesday's wild-card loss to the Pirates, he's 3-7 in postseason series with an overall win-loss record of 19-26.
He's had success in the regular season -- three manager of the year awards, five division titles, 16th all-time in wins and he's won 90-plus games in three of the past four years with the Reds -- but the lack of results in the playoffs finally cost him his job, even though he had another year on his contract. It's the right decision.
Baker's flaw in the postseason is managing like it's still the regular season; you can't do that. There is a sense of urgency needed in the playoffs. There's no tomorrow or next start you can look forward to. We saw this against the Pirates, when Johnny Cueto was obviously struggling and perhaps even rattled by the crowd in Pittsburgh. After giving up two home runs in the second inning and three hits and a run in the third, Cueto was allowed to start the fourth inning and gave up a double that eventually led to another run. By the time Baker pulled him, it was too late.
Go back to last year's division series loss to the Giants. Yes, Cueto's injury in the first game hurt the Reds, but they lost Game 3 in 10 innings as Aroldis Chapman pitched just one inning (the ninth) and threw 15 pitches. Meanwhile, Sergio Romo threw two innings for the Giants and got the win. In Game 4, Bruce Bochy yanked Barry Zito in the third inning; Baker left Mike Leake in to allow five runs, including two in the fifth. The Giants won 8-3. OK, that wasn't a must-win game, but Game 5 was. Mat Latos gave up six runs in the fifth inning, capped by Buster Posey's two-out grand slam.
In the regular season, maybe you see if Latos can work of that jam; in the postseason, with Latos laboring, you can't afford that luxury. (Even more bizarre was the botched hit-and-run with two runners on as the Reds were rallying in the sixth inning, with Jay Bruce getting caught stealing at third as Ryan Hanigan stuck out.)
Note, however, that Bochy removed Matt Cain after that strikeout and let a reliever get out of the inning. Bochy didn't want to wait one batter too long. Closer Romo again pitched more than one inning. Bochy altered his strategy; Baker never did, and it was a big factor in that series.
Go back even to Baker's ill-fated 2003 Cubs, when Kerry Wood was left in to allow seven Marlins runs in Game 7 of the NLCS. Who allows a starting pitcher to give up seven runs in a decisive game?
Look, ultimately you need talent, and while the Reds certainly had plenty of that this year, they did lack one big right-handed bat for the middle of the lineup. Brandon Phillips is nobody's idea of a cleanup hitter, except maybe Dusty's. Maybe a healthy Ryan Ludwick would have made a difference.
It's interesting to compare what Reds GM Walt Jocketty did with Baker to what the Rangers did with Ron Washington. Like Baker, Washington has had regular-season success and is known as a manager who builds a strong clubhouse and gets his team to play hard, but whose X's and O's have been questioned. The Rangers decided to stick with Washington.
We'll see whether either club made the right decision.