Some Houston Astros fans need to take it easy on manager Dusty Baker.
It’s already been a difficult season for the Houston Astros in a multitude of ways. They’re 6-8 after their latest loss, and they’ve already played four extra-inning games. The injuries have piled up as rookie after rookie makes his major league debut. Yet for some reason, a portion of the fan base is already fed up with manager Dusty Baker.
Look, I get it. The losses are frustrating. One day the bullpen blows a lead and the next day the offense looks utterly lost. There are a few in-game decisions I would probably make differently if I were in Baker’s position (use Greinke to pinch hit, for instance) but that’s the case with any manager.
I can’t pretend that the team would be any better off if someone else were in the dugout. AJ Hinch’s presence wouldn’t change the fact that the team is suffering from a ridiculous rash of injuries, nor would it erase the slow starts that stars George Springer, Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman have endured.
Baker is without his ace (Justin Verlander) and his slugging DH (Yordan Alvarez). Lance McCullers Jr is looking awfully mortal, Zack Greinke’s summer camp regimen was interrupted and got him a little behind schedule, and Josh James couldn’t throw strikes. None of that is the manager’s fault.
Baker is also missing essentially all of his bullpen. Roberto Osuna is probably done in Houston, Ryan Pressly hasn’t rounded into form, Joe Smith has essentially opted out, Bryan Abreu was optioned after a tough start. The Injured List is full — Chris Devenski, Joe Biagini, Brad Peacock, Austin Pruitt and Jose Urquidy are all on the shelf.
As far as his management of the pitching staff, Baker is doing his best with the awful hand he’s been dealt. He’s still trying to figure out who, aside from rookie phenom Blake Taylor, can be trusted in key situations. He’s also having to navigate the fact that the Astros are in the midst of a stretch in which they play 26 games in 27 days, so there’s no opportunity for rest.
Baker has had a reputation for keeping his starting pitchers in the game too long, so it’s ironic that he took flak for apparently pulling Greinke too early from Friday’s game. Never mind that Greinke had two consecutive stressful innings and wasn’t able to get ramped up well enough before the season, which made Baker want to be extra careful. It wouldn’t have mattered in the end anyway because the offense went cold.
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It illustrates a key issue about being a manager — it’s a thankless job. No matter what decision you make, there are fans who’ll grill you for it. As fans, it can be fun to debate whether or not a managerial decision was the best one to make, or to think about what decision we would’ve made in that situation. But that’s all it should be.
Baker’s presence isn’t making the team any worse. The bottom line is with all these unique circumstances — the COVID-shortened season, the injuries, the slow starts — there’s no manager who’d have this team in first place. The team’s struggles are not on Baker’s head and are in no way an indication that he shouldn’t be brought back in 2021.
We may have had World Series dreams entering this season, but things haven’t worked out that way thus far. All we can do is look at this as a way to get extended looks at a bevy of young players so we can know who’ll have a place on this team in the future and what moves GM James Click will need to make to gear up for 2021.