Baseball’s best team returns home tonight after just about as thorough a pants-ing of the next best team in a division that you’re ever going to see. Â After falling behind 1-0 in the first game of the three-game sweep of Pissburgh, the Cubs kicked the Pirates asses up and down all three rivers.
They did it with great pitching. Â They did it with great defense. Â They did it without their starting corner outfielders. Â They sent a message to the rest of the division, about as loudly and clearly as possible. Â “Hey gang. Â There’s always that wild card game you can play for.”
And waiting for them at Wrigley is our old pal Dusty Baker.Â You remember Dusty, the toothpick chomping spewer of nonsense and bass-ackwards baseball stratagem.Â The guy who made a huge splash in his first season managing the Cubs, riding a strong starting pitching staff, a ‘roided up rightfielder and a collection of otherwise spare parts to within one game of the World Series.Â Then, the Cubs, due in large part to his display of how not to manage the end of a game, blew it.Â Then they blew another lead the next night, and all was lost.Â Dusty had presided over a similar disaster in games six and seven of the World Series a year before, and he was never the same after that.Â His next Cubs team was even more talented than the one he had in 2003, but Dusty’s heart wasn’t in it anymore.Â Instead of being full of swagger and bravado like he was in 2003, he bunkered up Dick Nixon style and blamed everyone on the outside for everything.Â The pitchers he’d abused the season before broke down.Â His clubhouse imploded.Â Nomar Garciparra’s groin exploded.Â Things got bad fast and never got better.
Two years later Dusty was out on his ass, though he can always say he wasn’t fired. Â The Cubs just didn’t offer him another contract.
Ten years later, he’s back, this time with a really good Washington Nationals team. Â He has baseball’s best player, Bryce Harper, and world-famous homophobic Cubs killer Daniel Murphy and some really good pitching.
Chances are the biggest threats to Cubs postseason domination are both in the NL East, the Mets and Nationals. Â So a strong showing in this early season showdown would be nice to see. Â Even if it will be forgotten in about two weeks.
It’s pretty perfect that the Nats hired Dusty because they’ve been underachieving in, and before they even get to, the playoffs. Â Who better to navigate a team down the tricky road to clinch playoff series than a guy who has lost 11 of his last 12 elimination games? That includes a 1-9 record when a win would have won the series for his team. Â That seems like something more than just bad luck, dude.
His lineup for tonight is pure Dusty. Â He’s found a way to work all of his unsupported, long-lived theories of baseball into it:
Leadoff – His centerfielder (of course) Michael Taylor. Â Never mind that Taylor’s on base average is .221 (and his career oba is .272). Â He’s the centerfielder! Â Why he just hasÂ to lead off.
Batting second — The second baseman! Â If you can handle the glove, you can handle the bat. Â But wait, Anthony Rendon isn’t the second baseman, he’s the third baseman. Â But…he’s played 169 games at second in his career (204 at third), so that counts.
Batting third — The best player, Bryce Harper. Â Hank Aaron batted third, dude. Â I’m not sure if you know Dusty played with him, but he did. Â Hank hit there almost 8,000 times. Â So will Bryce.
Cleanup — The first baseman! Â So what if it’s Ryan Zimmerman and he can barely use his right arm and he’s got a whopping 86 OPS-plus this year? Â That’s where he hits.
Batting fifth — The RBI guy! Â Surely three of the first four guys in the lineup will get hits, that means the guy batting fifth can drive them all in. Â And so, despite leading the league in hits, batting average and OPS, Daniel Murphy is batting behind Ryan Zimmerman, and as a result has driven in 17 runs. Â And with nobody batting behind him of any ability, he’s also only scored that many.
Batting sixth — A corner outfielder. Â Those dudes swing big bats. Â So here’s Jayson Werth. Â Hitting .221.
Batting seventh — The catcher. Â So what if he’s got a slash line of .364/.373/.545/.919? Â This is where the catcher hits. Â He’s squatting all night and he’s tired, so he can get more rest batting down here.
Batting eighthÂ — The shortstop! Â Danny Espinosa is the man. Â Sure his OPS-plus is only 50 and he’s hitting .185. Â It’s not like there’s anybody better Dusty could be playing there. Â It’s not like Trea Turner is one of the top prospects in baseball and has an .836 OPS in AAA. Â Oh, wait. Â He does?
Never change, Dusty. Â Never change.