It’s one month until pitchers and catchers have their first spring workout in Phoenix … and how you liking those new functional Dodgers?
Impressed with how the pieces fit? The skills, the personalities, the egos? It’s been one serious off-season priority. The team that won consecutive division titles stumbled twice in the postseason and the changes were deemed necessary to take the next step.
“Over 162 games, you think that the team that’s the best over that time is going to win,” said Manager Don Mattingly. “When you get into five games, seven games, that’s a different thing. It’s a different mentality of how do we get on base, how do we put the ball in play? We have to catch everything.
“So many more smaller things come into play. Runs are being scored less and less, so adding a run here or there is huge. So I think those are the types that we’re going to be a little different team, as far as the way we can score. And hopefully we’re going to be a team that limits scoring a little better than we did last year.”
That makes perfect sense, though it does raise the question: If you build a team to win in the playoffs, will it also prove the best over a 162-game schedule? Can you focus on winning a series to the point you actually fail to make the postseason?
You can’t win in the playoffs if you don’t get there first.
The Dodgers’ sales pitch at being an improved team this season focuses largely on their being better defensively up the middle and having a balanced roster built to work better as a team.
They could have replaced Hanley Ramirez at shortstop with Tommy Lasorda and been better up the middle, so Jimmy Rollins is a huge uptick. Dee Gordon performed better in his first year at second than anyone had a right to expect, but he’s not in Howie Kendrick’s class. And I’d say the jury is still out on Joc Pederson in center, but he’s played so little the jury has yet to convene.
At the moment, they still have Andre Ethier, someone used to starting and expecting to in 2015. They’re counting on A.J. Ellis’ dedication to the team to prevent him from becoming unhappy if he loses too much time to Yasmani Grandal. And Rollins is used to being a leader in the clubhouse, and now he’s the new guy who has to feel his way.
“To me, I see it as you put the pieces like a puzzle together,” Mattingly said. “If you have a guy that’s not playing every day, you want him to be a guy who’s not an everyday player.… So I think the pieces fit together more as a baseball team than a collection of talent.”
Last year’s team won 94 games, yet fairly or not, was deemed something of a failure for not advancing to the World Series. It featured a loaded lineup that was again humbled in the postseason. Now the Dodgers are trying something new, which is understandable and pretty much the Geek Squad’s charge but offers no guarantee of scoring enough to win throughout the regular season.
“You hope you don’t need to score as many runs when you limit and give up less runs,” Mattingly said. “I think there’s always concerns whether we’ll be able to score enough. Looking at our club, I feel like we’re going to be able to score. At this point I’m not sitting here saying I’m worried about our offense. I’m not.”
Follow Steve Dilbeck on Twitter @stevedilbeck