The Houston Astros couldn’t outrun Dusty Baker forever

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Call it my bitterness lingering from 2003. Even I acknowledge that Dusty Baker has become a fine, and probably only fine, postseason manager. The mangling of the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs of yore is long in the rearview. The Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals were less of a nosedive, though still ended up face down in the dirt. Toward the end of his stint in DC and with the Astros he has gotten the urgency of every out come October.

Twitter erupts with joy as Astros miss World Series

Twitter erupts with joy as Astros miss World Series

That doesn’t mean one can truly outrun their nature. The 2023 ALCS won’t go down as a classic mastermind from him.

Twitter erupts with joy as Astros miss World Series

It’s not one particular game. There wasn’t much Baker could do when Christian Javier turned into an inflatable pitch-back in the first inning and got one out. This wasn’t a complete Astros team. They were a 90-win team, with problems in the lineup and the rotation. Javier and Framber Valdez weren’t what they were last season, and even the midseason pickup of Justin Verlander only revealed that he’s finally showing his age.

Still, the Astros biggest problem for most of the season is that the bottom half of their lineup sucks. Jeremy Pena hasn’t proven he can hit at this level, despite a hot 10 days last October. Martin Maldonado isn’t even a good pitch framer anymore, and he’s always been better off with a pool noodle at the plate.

Baker made it worse by subbing Mauricio Dubon in center for Chas McCormick. Yanier Diaz couldn’t get a start over Maldonado. If Maldonado is such a pitcher-whisperer, he can do it from the dugout between innings. Having only half a lineup killed the Astros, especially when Kyle Tucker lost all feeling in his arms for the series, apparently.

This series was lost in the first two games when the Astros scored four runs total, all in Game 2. Dubon, Pena, and Maldonado combined for two hits in two games. The Astros lost Game 1 by two runs and Game 2 by one, and one more big hit could have swung the series.

Baker got away with still treating Justin Verlander like the back of his baseball card instead of the mid-rotation guy he is at the moment, which eventually led him to turn around to see the first of Adolis Garcia’s series-turning moments. Baker was lucky that the Rangers bullpen walks around with dynamite sticks in their back pocket at all times. There was the “interesting” decision to send Jon Singleton up to pinch hit for Pena in Game 6 instead of Diaz or McCormick, which got washed away by yet another Garcia smash.

Baker is hardly the only cause. The Astros lost both of Valdez’s starts and he wasn’t very good. They didn’t have too much after Verlander and Valdez, even though they got the bonus of a great start from Javier early in the series.

But one of Baker’s constant foibles as a manager is giving his veterans far too much leeway, even when they stink. Hell, he does it even after they’ve left his team, as I still wake up in cold sweats over him being more afraid of Lenny Harris than Mike Lowell in Game 1 in 2003. Maldonado doesn’t do anything tangible anymore, and with Pena being glove-only the Astros couldn’t really afford to give away centerfield to just defense too. This was not a team that was set up in its best format to win. And they didn’t.

And it will apparently be Baker’s swan song from the dugout. Fans in San Francisco, Chicago, Cincinnati, and DC will probably say that it’s a more fitting end than if he had won another ring.

Fan almost gets KO’d by HR ball

I’m not sure I’ve ever been this drunk:

The Diamondbacks push Philly to Game 7

In the other LCS, the Diamondbacks took it the distance. Again, teams are what they show you over the six months, even if they can cover it up for a few weeks. There are a few reasons the Phillies were so far behind Atlanta in the regular season. One of them was that Aaron Nola just wasn’t all that good. He still had a dominating start in the bag occasionally, but 2023 saw him unable to unearth it regularly. So was the case in Game 6, when he was merely fine to barely passable.

Once again the TBS crew of Ron Darling (who usually ranks among the best analysts in baseball), Jeff Francouer (who when he’s kept from being distracted by anything shiny at the press spread is a minor miracle), and Brian Anderson were flabbergasted that Torey Lovullo had the gall to pull Merrill Kelly after five innings. After all, he was “dealing.”

Kelly gave up a .777 OPS the third time against the order this year, and he could consider himself lucky he was even allowed to go out for the fifth when he would see Schwarber, Turner, and Harper for a third time. He got through that and Lovullo remembered the teachings of Xenia Zeragevna Onatopp:

Seeing as how Lovullo’s pen gave up three hits total in the last four innings, and after Kelly’s little tantrum, looks like the right call. And none of them threw more than 15 pitches, which should mean all are fresh for Game 7. Performance against one batter or one inning is not predictive of the next, especially when a pitcher has been a gasoline fight third time through the order for six months. TBS would do well to learn this.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and on Bluesky @felsgate.bsky.social

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