Dusty Baker agreed to a two-year contract extension with the Cincinnati Reds, just a week after speculation surfaced that he would be dismissed.
Baker led the Reds to the NL Central title celebration, but was unable to celebrate the triumph with them because he was still recovering from a heart issue and a mini-stroke in a Chicago hospital. Cincinnati went on to lose in first round for the second year in a row, this time to the San Francisco Giants.
Under the 63-year-old Baker, the Reds have won 169 games in the last three seasons, their best such showing in 30 years. Their two division titles in three years mark their best stretch since Sparky Anderson led the “Big Red Machine” to back-to-back World Series titles in 1975-76.
The next challenge is to take that next step — the Reds haven’t reached the NL championship series since 1995.
“In Dusty’s five seasons here, he’s taken us to the postseason twice and has proven he can lead our teams to championship-caliber play on the field,” owner Bob Castellini said. “He’s the right manager to continue the building process that will take us deeper and deeper into the playoffs in the future.”
During his first two seasons, Baker presided over the club’s rebuilding from a team reliant upon homers — an offense built around Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn — to one that wins with pitching and defense.
The Reds reached the playoffs ahead of schedule in 2010, then got swept by the Phillies as their inexperience showed. They took a step back last year, when three of their five starters got hurt or became ill during spring training.
The Reds won 97 games and the NL Central again this season and took the first two games of their division series in San Francisco. They also suffered a significant setback when 19-game winner Johnny Cueto pulled muscles in his right side during the first inning of the playoff opener, which cost Cincinnati its ace.