The anger and hostility that clouded the first week of camp for the Dodgers has given way to the more familiar emotions of spring: excitement, anticipation, hope.
Talk of the Houston Astros’ high-tech sign-stealing scandal, which tainted the team’s 2017 World Series championship while possibly robbing the Dodgers of a title, has dissipated.
In its place is a keen sense of optimism fueled by the addition of 2018 American League most valuable player Mookie Betts and 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner David Price to a team that won a franchise-record 106 games and its seventh consecutive division title last season.
“That excited the fans, the media and our players — infusing those two guys really added to the buzz,” manager Dave Roberts said. “David Price and Mookie Betts in Los Angeles — this is great for baseball, the city of L.A. We all gotta talk about what’s good about this game, right?”
The harsh words, grumbling and bitterness could return if a Major League Baseball investigation determines that the Boston Red Sox illegally stole signs during a 2018 season that ended with a World Series victory over the Dodgers.
But for now, Dodgers center fielder Cody Bellinger and Astros shortstop Carlos Correa have stopped lobbing verbal grenades at each other, and Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner has stopped ripping Commissioner Rob Manfred for not punishing Astros players for cheating.
“Guys said what they felt they needed to say, and that was it,” Turner said. “I don’t think anyone was looking to drag anything out. Say what you have to say and move on, because we are very excited about this year and this team, and we’re looking forward to 2020.”
That excitement is warranted. The Dodgers should have one of the deepest, most potent and versatile lineups in baseball, a blend of power and on-base ability from the left and right sides, and a sprinkling of speed at the top with Betts.
Betts, acquired from the Boston Red Sox along with Price, hit .295 with a .915 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 29 home runs, 40 doubles, 80 runs batted in and 135 runs last season.
He will likely be followed in the lineup by Max Muncy (.889 OPS, 35 home runs, 98 RBIs), Turner (.881 OPS, 27 home runs, 67 RBIs) and Bellinger, the NL MVP with a 1.035 OPS, 47 home runs and 115 RBIs.
“We have a lot of dynamic players who can do a lot of things offensively and defensively,” Turner said. “It’s gonna be fun.”
A rotation headed by burgeoning ace Walker Buehler includes a healthy Clayton Kershaw and Price, and left-handers Julio Urias and Alex Wood.
The relief corps could be vastly improved if hard-throwing right-handers Joe Kelly and Blake Treinen regain their 2018 form, Pedro Baez repeats his 2019 season and new right-hander Brusdar Graterol, whose fastball sits between 98 and 100 mph, makes the jump to the big leagues.
“We have a lot of good arms in the bullpen,” Roberts said. “I think it will be a position of strength for us.”
Roberts said this team, on paper, has the potential to be better than the 2019 team, “but what’s on paper obviously doesn’t matter, which was evident last year.”
The Dodgers lost a five-game division series to the Washington Nationals in October, extending their World Series drought to 31 years, a stunning upset that has only increased their desire for a title.
“You lose a couple of World Series, you have the best season in franchise history and get knocked out in the first round of the playoffs … if you’re not hungry to get this going and take another crack at it, you’re probably in the wrong business,” Turner said.
The tone for the spring was set in part over the offseason, when Kershaw and closer Kenley Jansen, the team’s most decorated pitchers, were among several Dodgers pitchers to visit Driveline Baseball, the data-focused training company based in Kent, Wash. Kelly and Wood also visited the facility to work on mechanical issues.
“What’s interesting is these are not only veteran guys, they’re superstars,” Roberts said. “To go out of that comfort zone for the potential unknown … for Clayton, he was an All-Star last year, and Kenley to be open to that shows a lot of maturity. That’s what we preach, and it’s really cool.”
That tone was reinforced by Betts on the first day of full-squad workouts, when the outfielder, in an address to the team, urged the Dodgers to treat every game, every inning, every pitch, like Game 7 of the World Series.
“One thing I’m most proud of is there is no complacency,” Roberts said. “There’s a sense of urgency in our clubhouse that gets me excited about coming to the ballpark every day.”
It was also reflected in the voice of Bellinger, who seems even more determined after winning an MVP award and another division title.
“Honestly, it makes me want to work a little harder, I want to push hard to be better,” Bellinger said. “There’s a bigger prize that everyone in here feels needs to be accomplished.”