The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
You gotta be happy for Dusty Baker

Regardless of how you feel about the Houston Astros players who weren’t punished by the Commissioner’s Office for their involvement in the 2017 sign-stealing scandal, you have to be happy for Astros manager Dusty Baker. He was brought in by Astros management to run the team under the cloud of the scandal for the 2020 season and the uncertainty about how the team would respond to criticism that would surely come their way. In a weird season, he’s got them challenging to repeat as American League pennant-winner.


Many figured Baker would serve as a stop-gap manager. After all, he had been out of baseball for the past two seasons and was 70 years old. He should have already started his transition into full retirement after over 50 years in baseball.


When former manager AJ Hinch was forced to resign over the winter, the Astros needed someone who would make sure there was stability on the club during what was expected to be a tumultuous season from a public relations standpoint. Furthermore, it was speculated the new skipper would likely be a bridge to a well-thought out choice for a new manager in 2021. The Astros selected the low-keyed Baker two weeks before spring training started. He was a safe bet for this season. Even if the Astros weren’t competitive this season, he would have the respect of the rest of the league and the players he was charged with leading. Proponents of the new-style major-league managers didn’t necessarily favor the Astros’ hiring of Baker, who’s generally considered a traditional “old-school” manager.


When the Astros finished the regular season with a losing record, it wasn’t totally unexpected. Blame wasn’t directed toward Baker, but rather on the loss of key players from the 2019 season and some key injuries in 2020, including COVID casualties. The Astros managed to squeeze their way into second place, just two games ahead of the Mariners, thus earning a playoff spot.


But now the Astros seem to have hit their stride. They swept the favored Minnesota Twins in the Wild Card Series. They started hitting like the Astros of 2019, while their young pitchers shut down the slugging Twins’ bats, allowing only two runs in their two wins.


Astros bats were even better in the League Division Series against division-winner Oakland. As a team, they had a slash line of .322/.388/.594, led by shortstop Carlos Correa’s 3 HRs and 11 RBIs. They prevailed over the A’s in four games.


Houston faces a tough challenge against Tampa Bay in their fourth straight ALCS. It will be interesting to see if they can continue their hot streak against the league’s best pitching staff.


The Astros chose Baker over other personnel within their organization who would have already had experience with players on the team. He didn’t have much time during the abbreviated spring training to help the team to prepare for the negativity they were about to experience. Then there was the rush to re-start the season in late July, still leaving Baker handicapped in being able to learn his new players. Adding to the turmoil from the team’s messy situation and the season’s uncertainty from the pandemic, Baker was at high risk himself for contracting COVID-19.


But now, the team is coming together at the right time, and Baker’s influence in how the team has progressed is starting to show. The players obviously want to win the World Series in order to vindicate themselves of their cheating scandal. (It’s highly debatable whether a championship would actually make the animosity against them go away.) However, you can also bet those same players would love nothing more than to give their skipper his first championship after helping them through the crazy season.


Baker is looking for redemption himself. He was let go by Washington following the 2017 season after winning two consecutive division titles. Despite his age, he wasn’t ready to get out of the game.


He is the first manager to lead five different franchises to the playoffs. His most successful season was almost twenty years ago when the Giants won a pennant. His last five playoff teams didn’t get out of the first round, so this year’s results are already gratifying for him. It would be nice to see him get another shot in the World Series.


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