With the Dodgers playing their best baseball in years (or even decades), it is easy to get into a mindset that you expect them to win every game, and while this may bode well for relatively new fans or bandwagon fans, those of us who have followed the Dodgers (and the game itself) for most of our lives know full well that “you can’t win ‘em all.”
With the recent successes that the Dodgers have and continue to enjoy in spite of injuries to several of their key players, I am hearing more and more fans saying that they now expect the Dodgers to win every game. I hear it at Dodger Stadium, I read it in the media and on other blog sites, and I even read it on our ThinkBlueLA forum. Now don’t get me wrong, I am enjoying these Dodger successes as much as anybody and I hope that it will continue for the rest of the season, but let’s be honest here – no team can be expected to “win ‘em all” – I mean even the 1927 Yankees lost 44 games.
My point is that no one could or should expect a team to win every game and must realize and accept that with every winning streak comes an occasional losing streak. What sets successful teams apart from other teams is that successful teams have more (and longer) winning streaks than losing streaks. As such, it is unreasonable to expect a team to win every game, but what is reasonable to expect is for a team (say… like… the Dodgers) to go out there every single day and play their hearts out until the last out has been recorded, and I have been seeing this more often with this Dodger team than any other Dodger team in recent years. The 2012 version of the Dodgers are not giving up even when several runs behind late in the game – something that they have notoriously done in recent years. Nothing frosts my flakes more that seeing the Dodgers get an early one or two run lead and then suddenly quit playing and quit piling on runs. This usually led to them getting beat in the late innings by teams that did not quit. This year, however, the Dodgers have continued to pound it out and pile on runs (what I call “stomping on their throats”) and are playing hard right down to the last pitch.
I have long felt that the team with the most heart wins games, but never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that this heart (or character, as a good friend of mine calls it) would come from a bunch of minor leaguers brought up to replace a slew of injured regulars, but this is exactly what is happening with the Dodgers… and it is contagious in the clubhouse to the point where EVERYBODY is now playing with heart.
Like most, I keep scratching my head trying to figure out what has caused this very significant and wonderful change with this ball club and I keep coming back to the same simple answer – Frank McCourt is gone. I believe that anyone who thinks that the McCourt disaster wasn’t bringing this club down (or holding it back) is mistaken, including those who continued to say that it wasn’t affecting them – how could it NOT affect them? The excitement and enthusiasm brought in by the new ownership group was immediate and it is flowing through the entire Dodger system, including the minor leagues affiliates and especially with the players and fans. I mean when a fan shows up at the gate expecting to have their ticket scanned and herded along like sheep but instead finds Clayton Kershaw and Josh Lindblom there to greet them at the gate to shake their hand or sign an autograph for them, how can they not feel the excitement and enthusiasm? Stan Kasten is a genius!
Taking this one step further, I have long felt that competition breeds excellence and when you have three or four guys competing for one position, you ultimately end up with the best player for the position. It is here that Mattingly and Colletti need to keep their eyes (and their minds) open and not run a guy out there who is struggling simply because he is making the most money or because he has been around the longest. Sure, experience is a huge factor, but it is no secret that winning teams put the best guys out there regardless of their tenure or salary, and Stan Kasten (and Magic Johnson) know a thing or two about winning. I believe that a manager who keeps running a guy out there who is struggling and sits a guy who is hot is not being fair to the rest of the team and is not putting his team in the best position to win. That said, Don Mattingly and Ned Colletti are going to have some very difficult decisions to make in the coming two or three weeks when several of their regulars come off the DL and return to action. When this happens, I hope and pray that the heart that the youngsters brought with them from the minor leagues remains in the Dodger clubhouse and, more importantly, on the field and in the batter’s box.