It’s nice to know that when you take a vacation, and don’t have much service, that if you are a Dodgers fan, you can come back to find them exactly in the same position that you left them in — well in command of the NL West, the NL, and all of the majors, for that matter.
As happens now, I planned my vacation around getting to see the Dodgers. This year we saw them in Chase Field, where they handed Zach Greinke his first home loss of the season. A Cody Bellinger home run soared right over my head, and the only word I could use to describe it was “majestic.” I also was lucky enough to exchange a few words and grab a photo with Dave Roberts. He was everything you’ve heard about — he looked me in the eye, was “impressed” when I told him we had flown in from Pennsylvania for this game, and told me with a twinkle in his eye that they’d try to get a win just for me. There’s a reason the players love him. He’s about as genuine as they come.
And so he will be called upon to use all his genuineness and love of his players in the coming six or so weeks. He has what can be seen as a happy problem — too many good players and not enough playing time. Having a 19 game lead over your next closest competitor can afford you the ability to mix and match players as you see fit. How does player X perform in this situation? How does player Y react when they are moved into a different slot in the lineup, or to reduced playing time?
But then, this is a team that is accustomed to sharing the spotlight. Yasiel Puig‘s walk-off double Wednesday night was just the latest example. Puig was the ninth different Dodger to have the walkoff hit, in the 10 walkoff victories they’ve had at home this season. That leads MLB, and is three more walkoff wins than they had last season. And speaking of Puig, the patience and maturity he has shown this season is just incredible. He’s learned to take his place in the lineup in stride, he’s taking pitches he would have wildly swung at in the past and working out the walk, even if he doesn’t look happy while doing so. Watch his face when he draws a walk — you can tell he’s really much rather get a pitch to hit, but he knows it’s better that he is on base in any way possible. Much more responsible at bats than in the past.
The pitching staff has had to deal with the loss of Clayton Kershaw for the second year in a row, and all they’ve done is go 18-3 as a team, and the starting pitchers are 10-0 with a 2.39 ERA. According to Mark Simon from ESPN, the Dodgers have a 3.11 ERA and a 3.53 FIP, and that .42 is the biggest difference in the majors. He goes on to say that that is likely because of good defense, and good defensive alignment.
A total team effort. Pitchers are pitching well, and the defense is doing their jobs behind them.
That pitching is keeping them in the game, close enough for the players to know they are never out of any game. “If you’re the other team, you better score a lot of runs, because we’re coming for your pitching staff,” utility man Enrique Hernandez told reporters after Wednesday night’s game. That’s just the mentality. Doesn’t matter who it is, or when it will happen, there’s a confidence that someone will step up and win the game.
So, when veterans like Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier eventually return to the lineup, they’ll know that it’s not about them. Roberts seems to have every one on the same train, all moving towards getting the whole team to the World Series, regardless of who was the hero one night, because the next night will be someone else. Other years it was Kershaw and a few others. Not so this year. In a town of mega-stars, the whole team is the star that will finally get to the final destination, a World Series Championship.
(FOLLOW ANDY ON TWITTER: @DODGERSANDYINPA)