Column: Dodgers, Angels shooting for it all this season
Three days before his team opens its season, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was offered a chance to walk back his guarantee of a championship.
“Shouldn’t that be my take?” Roberts said.
On the bench on the opposite side of the field, Angels counterpart Joe Maddon was asked an open-ended question about his team’s expectations.
He reached for the sky.
“Winning it all,” Maddon said. “Winning a World Series.”
As the Dodgers and Angels approach opening day, the focus was on their players, and rightfully so.
But the Dodgers are about more than Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, just as the Angels are about more than Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout.
The teams are also about the men who lead them.
The Dodgers are bold, like Roberts. The Angels aren’t afraid to voice what their most devoted fans are wishing for them, like Maddon.
Ahead of his final season before free agency, Trea Turner says nothing has come of talks with the Dodgers about a long-term contract.
Speaking before the Freeway Series finale on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium, Roberts displayed the same fearlessness he used as a role player on the Boston Red Sox to execute the most famous stolen base in baseball history.
Roberts, who agreed to a three-year extension last month, didn’t just refuse to retract the championship guarantee he made recently on “The Dan Patrick Show.”
He doubled down on his prediction.
“For me to put it out there and believe that this is what’s going to happen, I think it’s very powerful,” Roberts said.
He didn’t make the guarantee to draw attention to himself. He did so to maintain the culture of accountability he has created.
“It raises the bar for myself and everyone that’s a part of the Dodgers,” Roberts said. “I think that, in life or in anything, when you give yourself an out, there’s an easy exit. I think that for me, knowing this team, this organization, I feel for me to put myself out there, put our team out there and say, ‘I can guarantee we’re going to be the last team standing,’ I don’t want to walk it back. I believe in these guys.”
Making the declaration was the easy part.
“The hardest part to do is now, every single day, get better, and win enough baseball games to put ourselves in that position, to accomplish our goal,” Roberts said. “But there’s no walking things back.”
The Dodgers are once again World Series favorites. They have reached the postseason in each of their previous six seasons under Roberts. They have made the playoffs in each of the last nine years.
How can the Dodgers make this old story new?
Roberts is calling on them to change how they view themselves, in essence to discover their inner Dave Roberts.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Dodgers, Angels and Major League Baseball heading into the 2022 season.
Pointing to how they were eliminated in the National League Championship Series by the Atlanta Braves after finishing second to the San Francisco Giants in the NL West, Roberts said, “We’re not the National League champions. We’re not the National League West champions. We’re not defending World Series champions. So, for us to think that we’re always on it, I would argue that we better flip the narrative and the script and better start being hungry.”
About an hour later, on the other side of the diamond, Maddon dreamed about what the Angels could be.
He dreamed like he did when he managed the Chicago Cubs in 2016 to their first World Series championship in 108 years.
“Your expectation, your goal, is to get to the playoffs,” Maddon said. “Once you’ve gotten there, you want to play the last game of the year and win it. To approach any season without that mindset, then why even do it?”
Maddon, who is in the final year of his three-year contract, was told of how Roberts repeated his guarantee and was asked if he wanted to do the same.
“I’m not that ... I don’t know if the word’s bold,” Maddon said with a chuckle.
The Angels won 77 games last year with Trout playing 36 games and Anthony Rendon 58. Of MLB’s 30 teams, 12 will be part of an expanded postseason field this year. If Ohtani, Trout and Rendon are healthy, why couldn’t the Angels be one of them and reach the playoffs for the first time in eight years?
“I do believe we’re going to make the playoffs,” Maddon said. “I’ll say that. And after that, our goal is to win it all.”
There was lively chatter in the Angels’ clubhouse, which Maddon viewed as a positive development.
MLB is deploying Angels star Shohei Ohtani as its pitchman in a 30-second ad saluting the start of the new season featuring Dodgers and other players.
“Our guys come and play the game properly,” he said. “There’s no reason we can’t continue that. And it all starts inside.”
Maddon credited second-year GM Perry Minasian for contributing to the improved work environment.
“There’s a very blunt honesty about what’s going on, from the top to below,” Maddon said. “The players love it. They know exactly what’s going on with each one of them. There’s no gray areas whatsoever. With that, I think everybody can go out there with a clear mind and just do their jobs.”
Maddon continued, “There’s a lot of people that don’t like the word culture. You don’t like it because you don’t understand it. Right now, the culture’s flipping.”
If this sounds hokey, well, it is. But Maddon has changed the culture of organizations before, when he transformed the Tampa Bay Rays into perennial contenders and the Cubs into champions. He’s attempting to do the same with the Angels, to turn them into a team about which guarantees are made.
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