MLB.com Columnist

Bill Ladson

5 days that set the course for the Nationals

5 days that set the course for the Nationals

PITTSBURGH -- The Nationals were in turmoil by the end of the 2015 season. They didn't make the postseason, so they dismissed Matt Williams as manager.

In came Dusty Baker, who guided the Nats to their third National League East title. The veteran skipper hopes to take them further than the NL Division Series this October.

With that in mind, here are five key dates that changed the season for Washington.

1. The Nats hire Baker: Nov. 4, 2015
Following Bud Black's decision to decline the job after he initially agreed to terms, the Nationals hired Baker as their seventh manager in club history. Even before he managed a game in Washington, Baker called the Nats the most talented team he had. It helped that Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer were on the roster, but Baker brought brotherhood into the clubhouse.

Basketball great Bill Russell and NFL Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh taught Baker that a close relationship between players brings a winning atmosphere. There were no reported disagreements between the players or the players and their manager like there were with Williams the year before.

Nationals talk Dusty Baker

2. We can battle the Cubs: June 16, 2016
The Nationals showed one thing during their three-game home series against the Cubs, the best team in baseball: They will not go down without a fight. This game felt like it took place in late October, rather than mid June. It went back and forth in the late innings, but Jayson Werth got the final word with a walk-off single with two outs in the 12th as Washington won the rubber game, 5-4, in front of a sold-out crowd of 42,000 at Nationals Park.

3. Murphy represents Nats at Midsummer Classic: July 13
Throughout the season, Daniel Murphy carried the Nationals offensively. He has had a campaign for the ages, batting .347 with 25 home runs and 104 RBIs, all career highs. Remember, before the season started, the Nats traded for Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips, but he used his 10-and-5 rights to reject the trade. Washington then went in a different direction and signed Murphy to a three-year deal.

Murphy reaches three times

4. The Nationals' new everyday center fielder: July 26
The game against the Indians marked Trea Turner's first starting assignment in center, and he never left the position except for a few games at second base. He also became the everyday leadoff hitter after the team started the season with Ben Revere at the top of the order. Turner became the first rookie in franchise history with 20 or more stolen bases since Mike Lansing in 1993.

Turner's grab on the run

5. Nats acquire their closer: July 30
The team was not comfortable with Jonathan Papelbon as its ninth-inning man, especially after he allowed seven earned runs over a three-game span in July. It didn't help that his velocity was down. So, in need of a closer, Washington traded left-handers Taylor Hearn and Felipe Rivero to Pittsburgh for NL All-Star Mark Melancon. The Nationals are not crossing their fingers every time Melancon is on the mound, and he is 12-for-13 in save situations since he joined the club.

Melancon's Nats debut

Bill Ladson has covered the Nationals/Expos for MLB.com since 2002 and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.