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Baker on playing Cubs: 'Supposed to happen'

Nats manager faces former club for first time in postseason in NLDS
MLB.com @JamalCollier

WASHINGTON -- Of course, it had to be the Cubs.

Before last October, Dusty Baker was the manager who had brought the Cubs closest to the World Series during their 71-year absence from the Fall Classic, when they came up a game short before losing the National League Championship Series in 2003. Now Baker is at the helm for the Nationals, one of the most talented and deepest teams of his career.

WASHINGTON -- Of course, it had to be the Cubs.

Before last October, Dusty Baker was the manager who had brought the Cubs closest to the World Series during their 71-year absence from the Fall Classic, when they came up a game short before losing the National League Championship Series in 2003. Now Baker is at the helm for the Nationals, one of the most talented and deepest teams of his career.

NLDS Game 1: Tonight, 7:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. CT on TBS

As Baker searches for the elusive World Series championship that would perhaps cement his career as a Hall of Fame manager, his former team will serve as the first roadblock. The Nationals will be vying for their first postseason series win in franchise history when they match up with the defending champion Cubs in the NL Division Series presented by T-Mobile. Game 1 is tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. CT on TBS at Nationals Park.

:: NLDS schedule and coverage ::

"I feel that this was supposed to happen," Baker said.

In the days following the Cubs securing the NL Central, Baker has been mostly coy about this matchup, choosing to downplay facing his former team. It has, after all, been more than a decade since Baker managed in Chicago and he has been back several times during the regular season, which included spending six years in the NL Central when he managed the Reds.

However, this will be his first meeting with the Cubs in the postseason.

These two teams almost matched up last fall. If Washington would have won Game 5 of last year's NLDS against the Dodgers, the Nats would have been headed to Chicago for the NLCS. However, Los Angeles outlasted Washington in an epic decisive game and advanced.

"I thought it was going to happen last year, but it wouldn't have been right. Because we were without Ramos and without Stras," Baker said referring to catcher Wilson Ramos and right-hander Stephen Strasburg, both of whom were injured during the final month of the season.

Video: PIT@WSH: Baker on Scherzer's injury, availability

While the Nationals have endured injuries this season, they have mostly returned to full strength save for a few nagging ailments, such as managing Max Scherzer's hamstring and easing Bryce Harper back after his left knee injury. But Baker has a team near full strength to try to defeat his former team.

Those close to Baker know each matchup with the Cubs carries a little extra feeling because of the way his tenure ended there. After that NLCS appearance in 2003, the Cubs didn't make the postseason in '04 and then posted back-to-back sub -500 seasons, which led to Baker's dismissal in 2006. He still shoulders a large brunt of the blame for the injuries sustained by pitchers Mark Prior and Kerry Wood.

"No matter how much satisfaction you get or dissatisfaction, you've got to beat them anyway," Baker said. "They are the incumbent [World Series] champs.

"I want to win. And they're in the way."

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Washington Nationals