Despite being without first baseman Joey Votto, the 2010 NL Most Valuable Player Award winner, and third baseman Scott Rolen for significant portions of the season, the Reds opened a wide margin in the NL Central and finished nine games above the Wild Card-winning Cardinals.
At the same time, as Manuel likes to say, the Nationals under Davey Johnson made the difficult journey from having a talented -- but unproven -- roster to becoming the team with the league's best record. It reminds Manuel of what the Phillies were able to do in 2007 when, after several near-misses, they finally made the first of their five straight playoff appearances.
"I think [Davey] did a good job of creating that mindset," Manuel said. "I think those young pitchers he had definitely brought the life and energy at the start of the year, and I think they definitely brought Bryce Harper up at the right time. Harper brought a good way of playing, the hustle part, to them. And I think the veteran players bought into it. They liked it once they got into first place. I think that was very important for them. I think they liked it, and that's when they took off.
"I believe Washington's kind of similar to what we had to do in . I think the manager has a lot to do with the positive part of it, keeping them upbeat. What was good about it was the start they got off to. And once they got ahead, they did a good job."
Johnson never let the impending shutdown of star right-hander Stephen Strasburg become a distraction. Similarly, Baker didn't allow the fact that he didn't have a contract beyond this season become a focal point, either.
Forced to make a choice, Manuel would vote for Baker first and Johnson second.
Manuel added, however, that there are other NL managers who impressed him this season. In Atlanta, for example, Fredi Gonzalez had to get his players to turn the page after seeing an almost certain Wild Card spot slip away in the final weeks of last season. Not only did Gonzalez do that, he did it with an injury-riddled rotation; Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens and Brandon Beachy all spent time on the disabled list this season.
"I think he's done a good job. He's had a lot of starting pitching hurt," Manuel said. "[Catcher Brian] McCann and some guys like [second baseman Dan] Uggla have had off years with the bat. And they've found ways for their offense to hit enough to keep them in the race."
Manuel also saluted Cardinals manager Mike Matheny and Giants manager Bruce Bochy, and suggested that Clint Hurdle should get a look. Hurdle brought his team to within four games of a .500 record, which would have been the first time the Pirates accomplished that feat in two decades.
"I think Hurdle brought a lot of positivity to his team last year, and it carried over to this year," Manuel said. "I think the depth on his team, the depth on their pitching staff and starting players and bench, they got worn down the last two seasons. But sometimes I think it gets picked too quickly."