The good vibes in the clubhouse figure to play a big role in the Dodgers’ chase for the championship.
This is definitely not Don Mattingly‘s Dodgers. For whatever reason, the former skipper’s leadership never rubbed off in the clubhouse; the all-important team chemistry most October runs require just never materialized with him at the helm. Last year’s champions, the Royals, had team chemistry in spades. The Giants couldn’t stop crowing about how much they liked each other while taking home their three trophies. The 1970s Oakland A’s teams aside (those guys wanted to kill each other), team chemistry matters and can’t be forced. It just happens. Fortunately, the Dodgers finally found some this season.
It was clear during spring training that manager Dave Roberts was set on creating an environment where the players could bond. Sure, the last few seasons, they have done “team” things–ace Clayton Kershaw‘s annual ping pong tournament and their own private Fall Fantasy Football League. Fun stuff, but none of which helped them really come together (last year’s home run bubble machine doesn’t count). But this year, Roberts’ patience, loyalty (who else would have stuck with that bullpen in the early going?), and positivity have helped build a brotherhood that the team hasn’t seen in years, maybe not since, dare I say, 1988?
Looking back at the first two months of the season, it’s hard to believe anything resembling team chemistry could form at all. There were the misadventures of the bullpen, the slow starts for veterans Justin Turner, Adrian Gonzalez, and Howie Kendrick, and the heinous list of injuries before they even broke camp. But Roberts managed to keep the clubhouse afloat while the guys figured things out together on and off the field.
Good Thing J.T. and Yaz Faced Off
One of the first turning points in the clubhouse can be traced back to a game against the Brewers in mid-June. A base-running gaff by Yasmani Grandal nearly cost the Dodgers a run in a close game, and Turner got in his face about it in the dugout. It was a heated moment, but the two immediately mended fences after the game, and then both coincidentally (or not) began hitting the cover off the ball for the rest of the season.
About 10 days after the Grandal-Turner shouting match, Kershaw went down with what looked at the time to be a potential season-ending back injury. Instead of folding it up for the season (who could have blamed them?), the team thrived by pulling together and finding strength as a unit, both offensively and defensively. Literally, a different guy nearly every night helped the team find a way to win. Team chemistry at its core.
How far will this chemistry take the Dodgers? Just ask Madison Bumgarner and the Giants. MadBum’s disastrous decision to make something out of nothing with Yasiel Puig the other night not only cost the Giants a key game, but also served to further unify the team they need to beat to stay alive. A rallying cry was born, t-shirts were made in record-breaking time (really, who got those made in like two hours?), and the Dodgers may have received the final shot of team adrenaline that could put them over the top. Let’s hope so.