WASHINGTON — Dusty Baker is in the playoffs for the eighth time in his managerial career, and on Thursday night, he was trying to get to the NLCS for the third time in those eight trips, having won the pennant with the 2002 Giants and lost a heartbreaking series with the Cubs the next season.The Nationals have never been to the NLCS, unless you count the 1981 Expos, which you absolutely should not because you don’t talk about the Washington Senators that way when it comes to the Twins or Rangers, and you don’t talk about the St. Louis Browns in relation to the Baltimore Orioles. So knock that off right now. MORE: Each team's worst postseason memoryAnyway, Baker has an interesting theory about a city’s mental energy and its sports teams: the power of positive thinking. “The places I
’ve been where people were positive no matter what the score was, no matter what, it was usually a positive outcome,” Baker said. “And other places I’ve been, where they expect negative, they have been a negative outcome.”The confusing thing here is that it makes no sense. In the pre-Even Year Magic era in San Francisco, fans were conditioned to expect the worst for a team that had not won a World Series since moving to California. That continued when, in Baker’s first year as a manager, the Giants won 103 games and missed the playoffs. Even now, if you check in on Giants Twitter, after three world championships this decade, there’s often a doom-and-gloom vibe, that the franchise has seen the best days it ever will.Baker’s tenure with the Cubs, well, it goes without saying what Cubs fans expect. And, yes, that’s exactly what they got in the 2003 NLCS, coughing up a 3-0 lead in Game 6 against the Marlins and a 5-3 lead in Game 7, both at home.MORE: Championship droughts are in the eye of the beholderSo, is the place that Baker managed where they expected good things to happen… Cincinnati? If it is, well, the Reds got swept by the Phillies in the 2010 division series, then blew a 2-0 lead in the division series against the Giants two years later (with all three chances to clinch at home) and lost the 2013 wild-card game in Pittsburgh.The Nationals have limited history in comparison to the National League titans that Baker has managed previously. But Washington did blow a 6-0 lead in Game 5 of the division series against the Cardinals in 2012, and lost three one-run games to the Giants in a four-game defeat two years ago. Where Washington does have playoff history baked into the culture is in another sport.“I had spoken to some hockey fans, and they were expecting — I was watching the game with them and they were expecting bad things to happen or expecting them to lose,” Baker said of the Capitals, who had the best record in the NHL last season, then lost in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs to their eternal rivals, the Penguins. “And I haven’t been here long enough to know what the history is here, but all I know is just positive thoughts go a long ways.”The history is that the Capitals have missed the playoffs only seven times since reaching the postseason for the first time in 1983, and have won one conference title, after which they were promptly swept by the Red Wings in the 1998 Stanley Cup Final.MORE: Dodgers-Nats stats on SN's scoreboardWashington is hardly alone in this. Even the Yankees, in 113 non-strike seasons, have won only 27 championships, less than a quarter of the time. It's a lot easier for fans to expect to lose, and just hope to win. For the most part, that's what they do.