While the baseball world is focused on the four-game set between the Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs as a test for the NL East division leaders and defending World Series champs, who are off to a rough start, Dusty Baker told reporters this afternoon that he wasn’t thinking that way.
“I view it the same as I do every other series, we’ve got to win,” Baker said.
“We’re trying to increase our lead. We’re trying to get to 50 [wins]. We’re trying to win 15 [games] this month. This is a big series for us. I think we’re at 12 now.”
In case you find yourself wondering what Baker is talking about with winning 15 thing, that’s the total the veteran skipper aims for every month.
In April, the Nationals went 17-8. They followed that up with a 16-11 May.
After taking two of three from the Cincinnati Reds this weekend, Baker’s squad was 12-11 in June, heading into tonight’s matchup, with five games left in the month.
Joe Maddon on the series with the #Nats-"I'm not putting a whole lot of stock into it other than curiosity factor."— Craig Heist (@cheistsports) June 26, 2017
Baker also said he understood Chicago’s struggles early this season, as they’ve dealt with injuries and other issues through their first 75 games, leaving them one game above .500 at 38-37 on the season.
Repeating as champions, Baker acknowledged, is never easy.
“The toughest part is probably that everybody is not going to have the same kind of year,” he explained.
“Everybody is not going to stay healthy. You’re not going to have — how many surprises can you came up with in young players? Can you come up with another one of those. And also you don’t have much time. That’s why I really appreciate repeat champions, especially two or three times, because they don’t get any rest in the winter time.
“The other teams are resting and recovering while they’re still playing, and especially on your pitching staff.
“That takes a lot out of the pitching staff if they don’t rejuvenate their arms. There are a lot of factors that go into it.”
He was also asked if he had any concerns about Joe Maddon and the Cubs pitching around Bryce Harper again like they did in Wrigley Field last May. Harper walked 13 times in 19 plate appearances as Chicago swept the four-game set. Is the Nationals’ lineup better equipped to deal with that sort of approach this season?
“We’ll see,” Baker said.
“It depends if the bases are clogged before Bryce and it depends on how the guys are doing after Bryce. Now last year, it was [Ryan Zimmerman] — after Bryce that wasn’t doing very well, and so it’s a new time and new day, so we’ll see.
“I don’t think it will happen to the magnitude that it happened last year,” he added, “because when something happens to you it shouldn’t happen again.”
Zimmerman started the series with a .350/.391/.657 line, 21 doubles, and 19 home runs in 67 games and 275 plate appearances this season, after putting up a .218/.272/.370 line, 18 doubles, and 15 home runs in 115 games and 467 PAs in 2016.
Harper has a .315/.420/.591 line, 17 doubles and 18 HRs in 305 PAs this season.
The Nationals’ offense starts the night leading the NL in AVG (.278), OBP (.343), SLG (.478), home runs (117), hits (737), extra-base hits (281), runs scored (424) and RBIs (415).
The Cubs came into the series opener with D.C. with a .259/.361/.456 line against left-handed pitchers this season, good for 5th/1st/3rd in the National League.
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