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.
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.
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.
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.
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.