In his first season as the Dodgers' manager, Dave Roberts was the National League's manager of the year. In his second, he led the Dodgers to their first World Series since 1988, joining Hall of Famers Tommy Lasorda and Joe Torre as the only managers in franchise history to take the team to the playoffs in each of his first two years on the job.
This season has not gone so well, so far. The Dodgers are 16-24, the worst 40-game start by the team in 60 years. They are eight games out of first place in the National League West, and one game out of last place.
We talked with Roberts about his evaluation of the team, what he does to try to turn the team around, why he prefers not to hold team meetings, whether he worries that his job might be on the line, and whether he regrets declaring that the Dodgers would win the division.
You have said this stretch is tougher on you than the one in which the Dodgers lost 16 of 17 games in late August and early September last year. Why?
When we went through that slide, we knew that we were a postseason team. It's different in that you knew your fate, essentially. Right now, where our fate obviously looks bleak and is undetermined, there's bad spells and there's team slumps.
The other part of it is for me is, in September, we just weren't winning games. We were playing better baseball. In this stretch, I just don't think we're playing good baseball. That's what, for me, is more disconcerting.
What in particular is missing?
There's baserunning things. Situationally, the at-bat quality could be better. We can pitch better, and some of it is sequencing — making the pitches we need to make at that right time.
I think guys are playing hard. For me, as a manager, that's a baseline. It sounds trite, but effort is what you can control. The results are hard to control. If guys are playing their tails off every day, and preparing the right way, there is solace in that.
But, with the players we have, even with the injuries we have, I still believe we should be playing better than we are. That's what is upsetting.
What do you do about it?
I talk to coaches, to figure out if there is something I can do. I talk to the front office and get their input. I talk to players. A lot of my conversations with the players are about: Is there something we can do as a coaching staff? I like to hear their input.
I'm not a big team meeting guy, because a lot of it doesn't apply to everybody. I do have individual conversations a lot, and about what we all need to do to get better. So, as we sit here, on the heels of getting swept by the Cincinnati Reds at home, for four games, my only focus is today. We can't change the 16-24 record. All we can do is try to win today.
That takes off a little bit of the burden. If you look at the season, and how are you going to win 90 games or whatever number, that's a burden, as opposed to trying to win today. That's the easiest way, and the best way to handle it.
Why would you not have a team meeting?
I think a team meeting is either punitive, or for encouragement. There is no punitive for the entire group. Encouragement, I've done that individually with guys, and in small sidebar groups. To get everyone together, I haven't done that. I think it's more powerful to do it individually. I've always done it like that.
You can ask players, and you can ask coaches, what they think of team meetings. They don't land. They really don't. Because, for the most part, they don't apply to everyone. So, just to have that adult conversation individually, I think, is more powerful. I can motivate. We as coaches can prepare them. But ultimately — and they'll be the first to say that — when they go out there, they have to get it done. We're all in this together. I've got to be better. The players have to be better.
The Reds made a managerial change because they expected their record to be better than it was. The Dodgers clearly expect their record to be better than it is, and the team has not guaranteed your contract beyond this season. If the team doesn't turn it around, are you concerned that your job might be on the line?
No. It's a job that I love and I'm passionate about, but all I can do is what I can do. What the organization chooses to do is not in my control. So, for me to even concern myself with that, for me, it would be just a waste of energy. I don't think about that. I really don't. It doesn't affect anything. Right now, all I can do is to try to get our guys to win a game, and play the right way.
On April 29, you said: "When it's all said and done, the Dodgers will be at the top of the division." Do you still believe that as strongly today as you did that day?
Your team is 4-9 since then. What do you see that we might not?
I understand that it's a long season. I look at the standings, and we're eight games back. Eight games back is not unattainable, by any stretch of the imagination, as we sit here in May.
I believe in everyone here: coaches, trainers, players, front office. I believe in this organization, and in the guys we have right now. I know we're not playing up to our abilities. We still control our own fate. If we're not playing good baseball, it doesn't matter who we play or where we play, but I expect us to turn this thing around and play the baseball we're capable of.