Dusty Baker talked after Game 1 of the NLDS, which saw the Nationals connect for just two hits in a 3-0 loss to Kyle Hendricks and the Chicago Cubs in Washington, D.C., about the need to be more aggressive at the plate going forward in the best-of-five series. It was fairly simple, as the veteran skipper explained it.
“We only had two hits,” Baker said. “That meant that your approach wasn't correct. And so we had to change our approach. First thing you want to do in a series is to find out what their opinion of you is and how they are going to attack you. And once you figure that out, then you can counterattack them.
“Last night, we were, you know, more passive on fastballs early in the count than I would like to see. Because everybody talks about getting deep in the count, and all that does is just put you in a situation where you've got to hit something off a guy with control, hit something off the plate or off-speed, which he did to us last night.
“We just got to change our approach some.”
Before the start of Game 4, Daniel Murphy was asked about his manager’s comments and whether he thought the team, collectively, had been too patient at the plate in the series.
“Yeah, I think -- what's your definition of patience?” Murphy asked.
“You know, swinging at an 0-0-pitch in the middle and getting a good swing off, to me, is being patient. I've patiently waited for a pitch in my zone and got a good swing off.”
In the end, Murphy said, “I think it still boils down to executing a plan,” and getting, “... a good pitch to hit,” regardless of who you are facing.
“If I don't get that pitch in the third or fourth pitch of the at-bat, is that more patient than being ready to hit and getting a good swing off 0-0.”
“I say this all the time,” Murphy explained. “But it's really what it boils down to, be ready to hit, get a pitch in your zone, and get a good swing off. That would be 0-0 or 3-2 after 15 pitches. I don't necessarily think the 15-pitch at-bat is more patient than the 0-0 at-bat, personally.”
Murphy wasn’t necessarily disagreeing with his manager’s assessment, as much as he was defining what patience at the plate actually means, and he talked briefly about some of the criticism Baker faces on a fairly regular basis, and why the Nationals’ skipper, “... seems to be more of a lightning rod than anybody, especially in this town,” as one reporter put it. What is it like playing for Baker?
“I've truly enjoyed playing for Dusty,” Murphy said. “You know, he's very up front about what his expectations are, and as a player, there's really not much more you can ask from a manager than what's expected of you.
“You know, he's got us prepared to play every ballgame.”
The problem in the series with the Cubs, Murphy said, wasn’t the manager’s decisions or anything else but the lack of scoring in the first few games.
“We've got to score more runs. The pitching has been unbelievable for us, starting and relieving.”
“Offensively, we've got to score,” he said.
“That's where it starts and that doesn't fall on the manager. He's got us completely prepared for every ballgame.”
While some of Baker’s in-game decision-making can be questioned, and his decision to keep running the same team out there when they weren’t hitting in the NLDS received plenty of scrutiny, it’s hard to win games when you’re not hitting, and the Nationals were a combined 30 for 161 in the series (.186/.302/.335) with 14 of the 30 hits and eight of the Nats’ 20 runs scored coming in their 9-8 loss in Game 5.
Murphy, whose previous postseason runs were the stuff of legend, went just 4 for 15 in the NLDS with the Cubs, with his only extra base hits (including his only home run) in the decisive Game 5.
Murphy, who’ll turn 33 next April, is entering the final year of his 3-year/$37.5M deal with the Nationals in 2018.
Will he and Baker be back together in the nation’s capital? How about beyond 2018?
Baker said earlier this season, that he thinks Murphy’s step up in the last few seasons is a result of the fact that he’s studied hitting and applied what he’s learned.
“Murph, he works. He works on it,” Baker said in June.
“He talks it, he lives it, he’s always talking hitting, so now is the time when guys usually get their selves together and they learn who they are and they learn at this age what they can do and what they can’t do.”
In his two seasons in D.C., the second baseman has put up a combined .334/.387/.569 line with a 162-game average of 45 doubles and 24 home runs. Should the Nationals extend Murphy? Do you trust him to keep producing the same results over the next few seasons?