Dodgers Playing Small-Ball This Winter Could Lead to Success in Fall

(Mandatory Credit: Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Yankees are historic. The Dodgers and the Yankees, who once played 15 miles from each other, have become the class of their respective leagues. Nearly 63 years after the Dodgers beat the Bronx Bombers in the 1955 World Series, the teams are embarking on different paths.

Right now, the Dodgers are doing what they do best. They are making moves, small moves that seem to go unnoticed—moves that don’t necessarily make headlines. The Dodgers are playing small ball. We can’t forget that this is the practice that got L.A. to the World Series in the first place. They make trades, and sign players who have been released, and they continue on as if not much has changed. Then, those players make the majors and the entirety of baseball starts to notice.

This is how the Dodgers became the best team in baseball in 2017, and it’s how they’ll be that team again in 2018.

Subtle trades and signings are how the Dodgers acquired Chris Taylor and Brandon Morrow. On Opening Day, neither of them were on the roster. Six months later, Taylor was named co-MVP of the NLCS, and Morrow lead the Dodgers bullpen into its first World Series appearance in nearly 30 years.

It goes like this—the front office finds players who have yet to make an impact in the major leagues, and they send them to the minors, where they adapt to playing the Los Angeles brand of baseball. Then, when they get called up to join the big league squad, they begin to make themselves known. Taylor, who got called up to stay on April 19th of 2017, answered by hitting 21 home runs and driving in 72. He became the true leadoff hitter the Dodgers needed. Not to mention, he can play just about anywhere on the field.

Morrow’s season began a little later, making his major league debut with the Dodgers on May 29th against the Cardinals. In that game, he pitched a scoreless 9th, the first of 12-2/3 consecutive innings he would pitch without allowing a run. In his 44 games after that, he boasted a 2.06 ERA and a record of 6-0.

Though he signed with the Cubs a few weeks ago, the Dodgers found something great in Morrow. They found success, true success, in a method not unlike Billy Beane‘s Moneyball. They signed players the rest of the league may have missed, and they gave them a chance to impact a major league club.

In a way, the Dodgers are the underdogs of the big market teams.

“The pleasure of rooting for Goliath is that you can expect to win. The pleasure of rooting for David is that, while you don’t know what to expect, you stand at least a chance of being inspired.”

-Michael Lewis in Moneyball

This, above anything else, is why the Dodgers are different from their former New York neighbors. The Yankees thrive on monumentality. I’ve known that since I was young, and it’s a tactic that works incredibly well. When New York traded for Giancarlo Stanton this winter, they made another loud, powerful statement about their intentions for the following season, and for the future. Los Angeles is capable of doing something like that too, they could hit the grand slam that wins the game in the 9th.

The Dodgers, though, thrive off of nailing two-out, two-strike walk-off wins. They thrive on the anxiety that accompanies uncertainty and only now are they seeing the effects of their small-ball mentality.

It seems to be working out just fine.



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