If the Dodgers are still playing baseball in October, manager Dave Roberts is convinced they won’t have the same problem they did last season. This time around, he believes they will approach their playoff games with the level of intensity required. He believes they won’t be eliminated because the other team wants to win more than they did, as he thought was the case last year when they were knocked out by the San Diego Padres.
“I do think that this club plays with urgency every night,” Roberts said.
Roberts’ explanation as to why: The Dodgers aren’t as talented as they used to be.
“I think that if you look at the last few years, I think the talent level, one through 26, was higher [before,]Roberts said. “That’s just the reality.
“I think in years past, with the talent there can be a little bit of … I don’t want to say complacency, but you know the talent is there.”
So, maybe the Dodgers have the championship mentality they lacked in the last couple of years. But Roberts’ analysis also unintentionally revealed why the Dodgers aren’t a World Series team. They don’t have championship talent.
This is another Andrew Friedman team that is overly reliable on its bullpen, only now the philosophy feels more like a necessity than a choice. Clayton Kershaw remains one of the sport’s great competitors, but is 35 and back on the injured list. Julio Urías has the capabilities of an ace but the next time he pitches more than five innings in a playoff game will be the first.
This is also another Friedman team with a top-heavy lineup, with a significant decline in quality after the fourth or fifth spot, depending on whether .198-hitting Max Muncy runs into something on a particular night.
Already, the makings of another October disaster are in place. Remember, the Dodgers won’t be playing the injury-ravaged version of the Angels they ran over in their final two games before the All-Star break.
Come the playoffs, Roberts will likely have to make pitching change after pitching change, with a few of them inevitably backfiring over a three-, five- or seven-game series. The offense will likely be shut down at some point, crippled by the bottom half of the order which will be transformed by superior opposing pitching into a succession of automatic outs.
Theoretically, this could change between now and the Aug. 1 trade deadlines. But the Dodgers will be shopping in what figures to be another seller’s market, as the recent expansion of the postseason field has turned some would-be sellers into fringe contenders. If the Dodgers’ track record under Friedman indicates anything, it’s that the team is as conservative in how it spends its prospect capital as it does cash. Friedman could acquire a couple of key pieces over the next few weeks, but the Dodgers will need more than that to take down the Atlanta Braves or whichever team emerges from the American League.
Perhaps because Roberts was an overachiever as a player — a player who, mind you, had the most famous stolen base in postseason history — he places a premium on character. He made the case that these Dodgers had an abundance of it, pointing to how they went through a three-week stretch in which their bullpen couldn’t get anyone out and survived injuries to every one of the starting pitchers on their opening day roster.
“Given some of those circumstances that we endured, there wasn’t quit,” Roberts said. “There was a fight. There was accountability.”
The Dodgers went into the All-Star break just a half-game behind the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League West.
“I kind of appreciate what we’ve done,” said Freeman, who is batting . 320 with 17 homers and 61 runs batted in. “We’ve had ups and we’ve had downs. This group just came together.”
Roberts was particularly encouraged by the performance of Mookie Betts, who went into the All-Star break tied for second in the NL in homers with 26.
“I do think that playing some infield has kept him more excited to play,” Roberts said. “It’s translated into the offence.”
The Dodgers should win their division and they should reach the postseason. But like many of the Dodgers teams before them, the current Dodgers look as if they’re designed to win in the regular season but not in the playoffs.
Roberts pointed out that what the Dodgers did in the past usually didn’t work.
“Certainly in the last two years, we haven’t won the World Series,” Roberts said. “So [talent isn’t] all it is.”
But a greater sense of urgency isn’t all there is, either. The right mentality can enhance talent but can’t replace it. Roberts and the Dodgers are looking to prove otherwise.