There’s No “I” in Dodgers

While driving home from Dodger Stadium after last night’s disappointing 2-0 loss to the Diamondbacks, I listened to the Dodgers post game show with Rick Monday and Charlie Steiner (who were later joined by DodgerTalk host Kevin Kennedy). In their collective assessment of the game, the trio were bouncing thoughts off of one another on what the heck is wrong with this team when, on paper, they should be absolutely dominating the NL West.

“You get a lot of new guys, on paper we have a great lineup. Talent-wise I don’t think there is any denying that we have a ton of talent in here. It’s just a matter of going out there and playing, not pressing, just going out there swinging the bats the way we are capable of, executing pitches the way we are capable of and just going out there and doing it. It’s not easy sometimes with a bunch of new guys, but there are no excuses right now.” – Clayton Kershaw (Photo credit – Stephen Dunn)

Several of the thoughts being passed around included mechanical things such as the need for the Dodgers to have better at bats by going deeper in the count and being more aggressive on the base paths with more hit and run (and run and hit) plays to reduce the number of double plays that the Dodgers are hitting into quite frequently of late; but the one area of concern that all three of these veteran baseball minds agreed upon was that with all of the recent acquisitions, this Dodgers team simply has not gelled yet and are not playing well together as a team – especially offensively.

Steiner pointed out that during the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics, most of the teams were made up of superstar MLB players who were thrown together, yet the eventual winners of both WBCs were the South Korean and Japanese teams (respectively) who played together all the time, stay for a few MLB add-ons. Although such a thing is an intangible, it makes perfect sense. Just because a team has a bunch of great players doesn’t necessarily make it a great team – they have to learn to play well together as a team.

The 2009 World Baseball Classic was won by Team Japan, which was just that – a team that played together a lot, not a team made up from a bunch of MLB players thrown together. (Photo credit – Lucy Nicholson)

When players report to spring training each season, they work together on the fundamentals of the game, and I mean the very basic of fundamentals – and they do so together for longs repetitive hours. As spring training progresses and team rosters are trimmed, the remaining players get to know each other and get to know exactly how each will react in specific situations, thus the team begins to gel as a cohesive unit. By the time the team breaks camp, the final 25 on the active roster are (usually) dialed in perfectly with one another come Opening Day.

Basic fundamentals of the game are repeated over and over during spring training. And while it undoubtedly gets tedious and boring for the team, it absolutely makes them better players and unquestionably bonds the team together.

Even though players acquired during the season also went through spring training, they did so with different teams and, as such, they don’t know the personalities and nuances of their new Dodger teammates. These are things that can only be learned by working together… a lot. It isn’t something that is picked up in only a few short days or even a couple of weeks – it takes time. The obvious problem is that the Dodgers don’t have time with only 30 games remaining in the season – that’s less time than a full spring training camp.

Another area of concern with new arrivals to the team is their compelling desire to perform at the top of their abilities to justify their lofty contracts – especially power hitters. It is human nature for these guys to want to crush every ball they see which, of course, is not always the best approach at the plate – especially when base runners are desperately needed when trailing late in games. Everybody wants to be the hero, everybody wants to hit that walk-off home run and, as such, everybody tries too hard rather than shortening up their swing and going for base hits to try and get on base. It’s great that management went out and signed a bunch of power hitters, but these guys usually have egos even bigger than their contracts and are often unwilling to put the team ahead of themselves. Again, this is the nature of the beast and something that takes time to overcome… time that the Dodgers do not have.

Herein lies the problem – with only 30 games remaining in the season and with the Dodgers now trailing the Giants by 4.5 games, there is simply not enough time for the newcomers to gel with the existing Dodger players.

Perhaps something as simple as a team barbecue might bring the Dodgers together as a cohesive unit. (Why does Ethier have the cooking mitten on his right hand while turning hot dogs on the grill with his ungloved left hand? (Photo credit – Roberto Baly)

What is the solution? Heck, I don’t know; but with so little time remaining to get to know each other on the field, perhaps they should try to get to know each other a little better off the field – maybe something as simple as a team barbecue or an after-game party at one of the players houses, or some other type of social team gathering to get to know one another a little better. I know that this sounds a bit corny, but something has to happen and somebody has to grab the bull by the horns and bring this team together… and fast. If they don’t, you can pretty much rest assured that the 2012 Dodgers will be watching the playoffs from their living room couches – maybe even as a team gathering.

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5 Responses to “There’s No “I” in Dodgers”

  1. OldBrooklynFan says:

    This was truly one of the best articles I’ve read in this blog, 53. You make several good points and the one that really hits the spot is about players swinging for the long ball instead of trying to get on base and playing some “little ball”, “hit and run” and so forth.
    Personally I think this team is pressing to hard, at the plate. Like thinking about the situation too much. I also feel that the trade has put a lot of pressure on the team to win.
    I know I may not get any one of you to agree with this but I think the team should forget about this season and pretend that they are mathematically elliminated. Then just relax and have fun, like an also ran, maybe even be spoilers. I think this could be the best way to turn things around.

  2. Truebluewill says:

    I agree with what you said about the team gelling, but as you said, there might not be enough time left in the season for that to happen. Also, your point about the power hitters shortening up their swing and going for base hits instead of trying to crush everything is very valid. When Ethier had his 10 hits in a row I think the blister on his hand made him shorten his swing and that approach might have helped him go on that streak. I think winning the division might out of the question now, but the Dodgers are only 1.5 behind the Cardinals for the 2nd wild card and with that 4 game series against them at home, making the playoffs that way is definitely doable.

  3. thinkblue55 says:

    The biggest issue with this team…expectations. When the team came into the season nobody expected much. 3rd place finish with Kemp running the team with near or comparable numbers to last season. A month in they are nearly undefeated at home, best record in baseball and Kemp is on pace for the greatest offensive season in history.

    Then new ownership comes in and with it a new checkbook and new hope. The team made a few personnel changes and while no longer the best in MLB still keeping pace to be a front runner…but not a lock to win. Then we get Hanley and Victorino and claim Cliff Lee. Now we’re making real moves…but still, nothing special. The team is still, at it’s core, the same team that has to contend with the West and isn’t a lock.

    Then, the Giants lose Melky and we clean out Boston’s payroll like an IRS raid and suddenly this team that was no sure thing and in a three team race for the West is now a 9-2 favorite to win the Series and a dynasty in the making with the outfield and first baseman locked up for 5 years. West Coast Yankees! A Gone hits a three run home run on the second pitch he sees and the offense puts up 10 runs. Put the champagne on ice!

    This team needs time to gel. The reason the Giants didn’t fold when Cabrerra went down? Damn near the same team from the beginning of the season. I think the closed door meeting last night will help. Once this team finds their groove (and Kemp is 100%) you will see the team this ownership paid for…and we deserve.

    • Ron Cervenka says:

      During tonight’s pre-game press conference, Mattingly said basically the exact same thing, Garrett. He reiterated what he has been saying all season long – that they come out every day and expect to win. I understand that this is what he is supposed to say, but every time I am blessed to be in the dugout for the press conference, I always leave feeling a lot more confident about this team. Mattingly truly is a very good manager.

      He did say that he used a little “voice fluctuation” (his words) during his meeting last night (Me thinks he chewed some little ass).

      We shall see.

  4. KSparkuhl says:

    Not corny in the least bit, 53. You touched on a tactic that many corporations use to get people to know one another in a brief space of time. It’s a proven winner in getting the ice broken, as it were.

    Party’s at my place, tomorrow, right after the Labor Day game!! :)

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