AT&T PARK — As Dusty Baker sat in the visiting dugout of the park he once called home, the Washington Nationals first-year manager admitted the possibility of a return trip in October had already crossed his mind.
“I look at that but it’s hard to stress [that] to the team — to look that far ahead,” Baker explained.
Based on the current standings, Baker’s Nationals would meet Bruce Bochy’s Giants in the division series if the postseason began tomorrow.
“It’s something that’s hard for some of the guys who haven’t been [in the playoffs] to look that far ahead,” Baker said. “But I look at that. I always look at that.”
The wide gap in postseason pedigree is what separates the pair of National League heavyweights. Bochy has led the Giants to three rings since 2010. The Nationals haven’t made it to October’s biggest stage since arriving in the nation’s capital in 2005. The closest Baker came to winning the title was in 2002 when the Giants lost in Game 7 to the Anaheim Angels.
Despite the discrepancy in their playoff resumes, the clubs have plenty in common. Both boast top-heavy rotations that were made for October. Up until Saturday afternoon, they also both had suspect bullpens in need of help.
“Well, really I haven’t thought about it,” Bochy said when asked if he had noticed the parallels between the two staffs. “But I think you look at the record. I think you have to look at the pitching — they are both similar and they’re the reason both teams are where they’re at.”
Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto headline the Giants staff, while Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer lead the Nationals.
Any of those four starters has the potential to take over a playoff series, but none of them can match Bumgarner’s track record. During the Giants’ run to the World Series in 2014, the lefty recorded a 1.06 ERA and held the opposition to a .153 average over 52.2 innings pitched.
When asked about the lines drawn between the pitching staffs, Baker offered a nearly identical response as Bochy.
“I never thought about that,” Baker said. “But that’s a fair comparison.”
The comparison became significantly less fair on Saturday when Nationals general manager and president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo acquired Mark Melancon from the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Melancon, who was a three-time All-Star with the Pirates, is the ideal replacement for Jonathan Papelbon — the Nationals’ deposed closer.
“He’s a known commodity. He’s a successful reliever and a guy that we’ve followed for years,” Rizzo said. “[He’s] battle-tested and one of the elite relievers in the game.”
The Pirates didn’t lose once when Melancon entered in a save situation dating back to April of 2015 — a stretch of 80 games.
Melancon also would have been an ideal replacement for Santiago Casilla.
While the clubs competed on the diamond through the weekend, the perception is that GM Bobby Evans and his counterpart Rizzo were also competing on the trade market.
“There’s not a lot of relievers at his level,” Rizzo said of his new closer. “It’s supply and demand. “The supply [of] those type of guys — there’s not a lot of. So, there was a lot of competition for players.”
The Nationals’ acquisition of Melancon with the Chicago Cubs’ move to nab Aroldis Chapman on Monday marks the second time in a week the Giants lost out to a fellow first-place club in the chase for a ninth-inning stopper.
Now Evans has until 1 p.m. on Monday to find that elusive bullpen arm in a market where the prices are high and two of the top options are already accounted for.Bruce BochyDusty Bakerkarl buscheckMLBSan Francisco GiantsWashington Nationals