Dusty Baker is October's heartbreak kid, and it's hard to figure out why

Washington Nationals Baseball I'm going to pose a question that probably doesn't have a good answer, but it's something worth discussing: Why do Dusty Baker's teams so consistently fail to close out series in the postseason?With the Nationals' elimination from the NLDS on Thursday, Baker's teams are now 0 for their past 10 in potential series-clinching wins. That's 10 losses, spread across three teams over a span of 14 seasons. Thanks to Baker's Cubs winning the 2003 NLDS against the Braves, that 0-for-10 tally doesn't include the 2002 World Series, in which Baker's Giants held a 3-2 lead against the Angels — and had a 5-0 lead in the seventh inning of Game 6 — before losing the final two games. MORE: Bizarre sequences leads to more heartbreak for NationalsBut there's clearly a long-established pattern. Baker's teams consistently put themselves in a position to advance — sometimes a very strong position — and then they don't. But why? I get that there are errors and misplays, that pitchers perform poorly and that bats go cold. But the question is why those things tend to attack Baker's teams so consistently with postseason glory on the line. Curses aren't real, so it's got to be something else. Is it all just bad luck? Or does it have something to do with Baker? Again, I don't have an answer. But that latest 0-for-10 is a streak that comes off as extreme, one that perhaps defies the law of averages and makes one wonder whether there's a single factor at play. Without getting too deep into the particulars, let's look back at the various series losses:2003:  The Baker-managed Cubs had a 3-1 series lead against the Marlins in the NLCS. They lost Game 5 in Miami, then blew a 3-0 lead in the eighth inning of Game 6 at home (don't blame Steve Bartman) and blew a 5-3 lead in the fifth inning of Game 7 to lose the series.2012: Baker's Reds jumped out to a 2-0 lead against the Giants in the NLDS before losing three straight at home. After being in complete control for the first two games, the Reds held a lead for a total of two innings over the next three.2013: The Reds lost the NL Wild Card Game 6-2 to the Pirates. They never led.2016: Baker's Nationals took a 2-1 series lead over the Dodgers in the NLDS before losing Games 4 (in LA) and 5 (at home) — games in which they held leads.2017: Baker's Nationals fought hard to force Game 5 back in D.C., jumped out to a 4-1 lead against the Cubs, gave that lead away in the fifth inning and, though they chipped away and made things interesting, fell short and were eliminated from the postseason yet again.Not necessarily unrelated: The 1993 Baker-led Giants led the NL West by as many as nine games as late as Aug. 11, but lost the division title to the Braves on the last day of the season, done in largely because of an eight-game losing streak in September. Also not necessarily unrelated (but probably insignificant): Baker's 2000 Giants won the first game of their NLDS against the Mets, then lost three straight, including ex

tra-inning losses in Games 2 and 3. So they at least had something to build on after Game 1, but didn't. I get that many teams have done that in a best-of-five series, but I'm just throwing it out there as part of the discussion.MORE: Three takeaways from the Cubs' Game 5 winWhat's the central factor in all these playoff letdowns? Is there one? Is it a lack of focus by the players? Is it Baker failing to keep them focused? Is it a lack of a playoffs-are-different mindset? Is it bad in-game decisions? Is it just that they all got beat by better teams? Is it some weird X-factor? Is it some combination of all those things? The only constant in all this is Baker. Is it fair to put much, if any, blame on him? Probably not, but, again, I don't know.By nearly any other indicator, Baker qualifies as a good manager. His teams usually win and his players love him. His reputation in the game is stellar. Things just tend to go south in October, for reasons as yet unexplained in full. You have to feel for him.MORE: Every team's worst postseason memory, revisitedOf course, Baker isn't the only good manager to have teams consistently fall short of expectations in the postseason. Goodness knows the Bobby Cox-led Braves underperformed in the '90s and 2000s (Atlanta had zero playoff series wins in Cox's final nine seasons), as have the Terry Francona-led Indians of the past couple of years.Maybe the Nats will win it all next season with Baker at the helm, or maybe they'll lose another heartbreaker. If they do make the playoffs, both their history and Baker's — fair or not — would indicate that we already know the outcome.