Dodgers: The 2018 Dodgers are Better Off as Underdogs

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 01: Yasiel Puig
LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 01: Yasiel Puig /

The Dodgers have started off this young season winning only two of seven games thus far. Earning a split of the opening four-game series at home after getting shut out 1-0 the first two games against the hated Giants was a slap in the face.

Getting swept in the desert against the Diamondbacks in the next series was more salt in that wound. The Dodgers need to keep scuffling like this for a little while. I believe they will perform better throughout the season if they embrace the underdog role after more of this adversity.

What did we learn from 2017?

Seems like a long time ago that Sports Illustrated thought the Dodgers might be the greatest team of all-time. While flattering, that noise did nothing good for the team. That article posted on August 22nd, and it might as well have been a jinx because the team went only 16-23 to close out the regular season including a brutal 11 game losing streak that seemed to last forever. Prior to that article, the team hadn’t lost more than three games in a row all year. Then there was the immaculate playoff success en route to the World Series.

They swept the bitter rival Diamondbacks in the NLDS, so awesome to send those guys home after all the bad blood the past few years. Avenging the disappointing playoff exit to the Cubs from a season prior with a dominating 4-1 series win at Wrigley Field was even sweeter. The fairy tale was finally coming together. Then, the lights got too bright on the biggest stage ever. Even though they weren’t overwhelming favorites, many figured the Dodgers could handle the Astros without a problem in the World Series. We all know how that story ended.

Underdog = team pedigree

The 2017 Dodgers couldn’t get the job done as favorites, it’s a title that doesn’t suit the team makeup well. With hardly any roster turnover from last season, it’s pretty much the same team in 2018. What they need is a different mental approach. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being an underdog. It makes you work harder, dig deep down and ultimately appreciate the beauties of triumph more. Taking a close look at the team, yes there are a couple superstars. But they are also underdogs their own right today: Clayton Kershaw (has choked in the playoffs too much), Corey Seager (struggled with health since the World Series), and Cody Bellinger (set records for strikeouts in World Series (17) and playoffs overall (29)).

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Then there are some real underdogs, many of them. There is a guy who came up as a catcher in the minors, got converted to reliever, now an elite closer, Kenley Jansen. Late bloomer turned fan favorite Justin Turner. A former utility infielder who is currently the starting center fielder, Chris Taylor. Much hyped import who has experienced tough growing pains, almost traded a couple times, and coming off a career year, Yasiel Puig. Former 2011 NL MVP candidate, traded to the Padres, written off as a bad contract, now back on the team looking decent so far, Matt Kemp. A 38-year-old journeyman southpaw whose last meaningful season before coming to the Dodgers two years ago, was way back in 2007, Rich Hill. Trade deadline throw-in turned 2017 All-star Alex Wood. And last but not least, utility outfielder, whose claim to fame as a player was boldly stealing second base against the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, now Dodgers Manager, Dave Roberts.

Struggle breeds greatness

With each loss and poor performance, mainly at the plate: 2nd worst in the NL in team batting average (.202) and homers (3), the Dodgers are looking less and less like the juggernaut favorite they were pegged to be last August. Good. Some more losses and bad individual showings on the field will seem like they equate to the most complex math problem ever. Even more of a challenge.

How do they overcome those mind-blowing obstacles? The team will be forced to go back to basics. Go step by step, reduce the problem to its simplest form. Refining the approach, improving preparation, attention to detail, and having fun while executing the game plan. The 2018 Dodgers don’t need to be the best team ever. They just need to make the playoffs. If they alter their mental approach toward the daily grind of the season, to that of a scrappy underdog, they improve their chances of winning in the long run.

Next: Did the Dodgers front office overthink things this spring?

Making it deep into the playoffs will surely bring some type of difficulty. Approaching similar difficulties that they faced last season with a different mindset should produce different, more favorable results. A winner is a winner, underdogs can hoist trophies and wear championship rings too.