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Dusty Baker on facing the Cubs: ‘Let’s go in and finish this thing’

WASHINGTON — Nationals manager Dusty Baker never has been one to think — or talk — small. But some might say he’s thinking (and talking) extra-big heading into Friday’s Game 1 of the divisional round against the Cubs.

“Go in and try to finish this thing,” he said. “And, above all, you’ve got to be positive and realize that, hey, we’re amongst the last ones standing in baseball. So, you know, we’re among the elite — and we want to be the elite.”

The 68-year-old former Cubs manager (from 2003-06) has yet to win a World Series since hanging up his spikes as a player. There’ve been close calls — ’03, anyone? — but rarely has he had a team as seemingly primed to win as these Nats. Even with ace Max Scherzer likely pushed back to a Game 3 start, the Nats rate edges over the Cubs almost across the board based on 2016 performance.

Baker wants his boys to jump on pitcher Kyle Hendricks and the Cubs early and crank up the heat from there.

Nationals manager Dusty Baker on the NLDS against the Cubs: "The No. 1 thing is [to] keep the pressure on. No matter what the score is, you keep the pressure on."

“The No. 1 thing is [to] keep the pressure on,” he said. “No matter what the score is, you keep the pressure on.”

That goes for his running game, too. One of the worst nights of the Cubs’ season happened here in June when the Nats stole seven bases off pitcher Jake Arrieta and catcher Miguel Montero. The latter player no longer is with the team after criticizing his battery mate in comments to reporters that night.

Shortstop Trae Turner stole four of those bases. He’ll be in the leadoff spot, ready to test Hendricks and Willson Contreras this time.

“Hendricks has a great [pickoff] move,” Baker said. “He’s picked off more people than anybody in the league. But he has a tendency sometimes, if he doesn’t have a great move, to be slow to the plate. And you don’t run off the catcher; you run off the pitcher. And we all know that Contreras can throw, but, you know, somebody’s stolen off him during the course of the year. It’s not going to stop us from being aggressive.”

Baker said Gio Gonzalez will start Game 2 opposite Jon Lester, and Scherzer will go in Game 3 against Jose Quintana at Wrigley Field. Baker was 100 percent clear about it, though.

“He’s supposed to have a bullpen [session], I think, today,” he said a little over four hours prior to the start of the game. “So we’ll see how he comes out.”

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Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com