Are the LA Dodgers unbeatable?


GLENDALE, Ariz. — Early on the last morning of March, in the near-empty Los Angeles Dodgers clubhouse at Camelback Ranch, a short, high-pitched scream rang out over the usual morning playlist and thuds in the hall. bodybuilding.

Despite its resemblance to the combination of a cackling hyena and a happy toddler, the noise came from publicly stoic pitcher Walker Buehler, who was reacting to a particularly controversial table tennis point. Spring training clubs around Arizona and Florida are filled with sounds like that, with hoots and howls and hoarse laughter – with chatter.

But aside from a few relievers who backed into a corner, the Dodgers clubhouse was quiet, as always. They come, they lift, they hit, they play, each player in their own long-standing routine, knowing how much work is required and how difficult it can be to win.

The new superstar this year is Freddie Freeman, one of seven former stars who can fill manager Dave Roberts’ starting lineup as he writes it down each day. Last week, the Dodgers traded a former all-star stick for a former one closer to the all-stars, outfielder AJ Pollock for reliever Craig Kimbrel. They had one to spare.

“They could be wonderful,” a member of a division rival’s front office recently sighed reluctantly. But wonderful has rarely seemed so down-to-earth.

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“That’s exactly how we don’t want to think about it,” said Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner, who has seen stars such as Freeman, Trea Turner, Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, Max Muncy and Will Smith fall into place around him. the last half-decade. He said scheduling cruise control is the surest way to ensure you never use it, and playing 162 games requires managing fuel.

“You can’t play the balls against the wall for 162 knowing that you have something left in the playoffs. I think it’s about urgency in the regular season and taking care of business enough to have the possibility of moving down in September and being complete for the playoffs,” he said, “instead of being neutral all year and then trying to accelerate it. the last month for the make.

For most of the past decade — especially since Roberts and baseball operations chief Andrew Friedman assumed their roles — the Dodgers have turned winning into a science.

Many clubhouse players know what winning the World Series looks like, with the 2020 title still fresh in their minds. Most of them know how grueling a season can be when it requires 162 games, like they did when chasing the up-and-coming San Francisco Giants for the National League West crown in 2021. And only one current Dodger, longtime ace Clayton Kershaw, knows what it’s like to play for Los Angeles and miss the playoffs, which were last held in 2012.

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“It’s definitely a very professional club,” said first baseman/outfielder Matt Beaty, whom the Dodgers traded to San Diego at the end of spring training because they ran out of room for him in the club. the outfield. “There are not many team rules. It’s just kind of an expectation that you’re a good guy, a good teammate, that you do your job. It’s just the culture there.

They also know what routines can help them get into October – almost to the minute. When Chris Taylor walked into the clubhouse one afternoon in late March, he asked reporters how long they were allowed to stay there. He quickly left, only to return a minute before the media were asked to leave.

When asked if he had a few minutes to chat before a workout, Betts said no, because in fact he only had three minutes. It was 2:17 a.m. He wanted to be in the cage at 2:20 sharp.

After hearing that Roberts had praised his mechanics at camp, southpaw David Price called out his manager’s tardiness.

“[Roberts] was late in a couple of my paddocks – the last two. He hasn’t seen me pitch for a few days. Price told reporters after a release at the end of March. “So I’m sure he liked what he saw.”

What Roberts sees in these Dodgers may not seem entirely invincible. They lack the almost laughable starting pitch depth with which they started last season – a season in which they felt the need to trade for Max Scherzer at the deadline, but then found themselves at patch up bullpen games in October anyway.

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But they still have Kershaw, Buehler and the remarkable southpaw Julio Urías. And with Kimbrel in the bullpen to replace Kenley Jansen, they have such an intimidating late-inning relief corps that one star member of the Los Angeles Angels simply said “I’m quitting” when he heard Kimbrel would be joining Blake. Treinen, Brusdar Graterol and Daniel Hudson. And they still have the expectations, the understanding that a title is possible and therefore the goal.

“What I’ve learned is that you have to get to the mic, day to day, and that’s a lot harder to do in practice than it is to say,” Roberts said, eyes glued to Kershaw, who was initiating a bullpen session from a few yards. “Every time he takes the mound, the other team is going to try to beat him because they want to beat a Hall of Famer. Every time we play someone, they’re trying to beat the Dodgers.

Focusing on the smallest amount of time helps them deal with that reality, he said. Focusing on winning one game a day also helps.

“The same goes for embracing him for who he is,” Roberts said. “We cannot turn away from it and run away. If the guys think it’s too much pressure, then we have the wrong players.

But Roberts doesn’t think he’s got the bad players, not with a bullpen so deep you wonder how many innings the Dodgers need the rotation anyway, not with an infield full of players who’ve been MVP candidates, not with an outfield that features two former MVPs.

“We will be as good as [the players] buy into what we’re trying to do here, not take it for granted,” batting coach Brant Brown said. “You can’t just say, ‘This formation is going to roll the balls and we’re going to win. It doesn’t happen. It’s still Major League Baseball. You are always up against guys who drive cars as beautiful as yours. I think it’s important that we stick to our individual game plans, our team concept and do it every day. All. Only. At bat.

This plan leaves little room for gratuitous emotions, to sit around talking about what might be.

“When you play emotional for a whole season, one, you burn out. Two, there’s not much to add,” Muncy said. “When you’re a team that’s balanced all the time, you get to the playoffs and you find that emotion. It adds a lot more.

So the Dodgers come and go, doing their job, boring on purpose. They don’t waste energy, and they don’t waste time. They know not to allow themselves more than a moment or two of table tennis-related dizziness before they even begin the journey they hope will last until October. If all goes well, they’ll need every ounce of joy they can muster at the end of the World Series, and not a moment before.

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