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Baker gone as Nationals manager despite 2 NL East titles

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker talks to reporters in the dugout before playing New York Mets in a spring training baseball game in Port St. Lucie, Fla., in March. The Nationals have announced that Baker won’t be back next season. Baker led the Nationals to the NL East title in each of his two years with the club, but Washington lost its NL Division Series both times.

WASHINGTON >> Dusty Baker is done as manager of the Washington Nationals after two seasons, two NL East titles and zero playoff series victories.

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said he told Baker the news via telephone this morning. Baker’s two-year deal with the club is expiring.

“Our expectations have grown,” Rizzo said during a conference call with reporters. “Winning a lot of regular-season games and winning divisions are not enough. Our goal is to win a world championship and, to that end, we made the decision late last night.”

Rizzo declined to say why he believes Baker can’t help reach that goal.

The GM also wouldn’t offer any specifics about what sort of manager he will be looking for as a replacement. The Nationals will be hiring their sixth manager in a 10-season span.

Rizzo called the split from Baker “a pure baseball decision” and said it was not about an inability to reach a new deal with the skipper.

“This had absolutely nothing to do with negotiations, dollars,” Rizzo said. “It was not a negotiation with Dusty.”

The contracts for the members of Baker’s coaching staff also are finished. The team said it will work with its new manager to fill those positions.

“I think Dusty’s great. The whole coaching staff. … They do such a good job of making sure they relate to us. That’s a great group of guys in there. They’re just as much deserving of the success we’ve had as we are. They probably work harder than us, to be honest with you,” first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said last week. “I think everyone in this room would love to have them back.”

The moves come the week after Washington was eliminated from its NL Division Series against the Chicago Cubs with a 9-8 loss at home in Game 5 — and Baker was front and center during a PR debacle involving whether Stephen Strasburg would pitch in Game 4 of that series. The Nationals were bounced from the postseason in the NLDS round in 2016 against the Los Angeles Dodgers; that one also ended with a Game 5 loss at home by one run.

Baker’s teams have now lost 10 consecutive games with a chance to advance in the postseason. His career postseason record as a manager is 23-32.

With Rizzo as GM, the Nationals have won four division titles since 2012 but have yet to win a playoff series.

Other teams currently looking for a manager include two other members of the NL East: the New York Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies.

This outcome, essentially, is what Baker was worried about as far back as spring training in February, when he made clear his desire for a new contract, knowing his was up after 2017.

Before the series against the Cubs began, Baker was asked about his possible future in Washington.

“I’ve given some thought to some things, but we were told that we were waiting until after the season to make a determination,” he said at the time. “There’s a good chance I’ll be back.”

Rizzo, meanwhile, sounded a similar note before the NLDS, saying then: “We’re both confident that he’ll be back with us, but we haven’t had any conversations about it.”

But Rizzo said today that he and the Nationals’ owners thought that “after Game 5, this was the right decision to make.”

Despite a host of injuries to key players, including 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper, the Nationals went 97-65 this season, finishing 20 games out in front in their division.

In 2016, Baker’s first in Washington, the club was 95-67, and he finished third in voting for NL Manager of the Year.

In all, the 68-year-old has spent 22 seasons as a big league manager, accumulating more than 1,800 regular-season wins with the San Francisco Giants, Cubs, Cincinnati Reds and Nationals. Baker also was a player in the majors for 19 years.

Hours after telling him he no longer was wanted in Washington, Rizzo referred to Baker as “a Hall of Fame-type of manager.”

The team also announced that 2B Daniel Murphy had surgery today to repair cartilage damage in his right knee.

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