LOS ANGELES – Aren’t there times that you wonder how the Dodgers, with a good chunk of their pitching staff on the injured list and two members of their everyday lineup performing below entry level, are running away with the National League West?.
Dave Roberts was asked the question before Saturday’s game with the Giants.
“That’s a good question,” he said with a chuckle. “I think it’s just understanding that what we have in the room that particular night is good enough to win a ballgame. And I think that we do a good job of not having side doors as far as potential excuses, and I think that’s part of it.”
Another potential reason was on display in the course of Saturday’s 4-2 victory, in which Mookie Betts, Trea Turner and Freddie Freeman, the Nos. 1-2-3 hitters in the Dodgers lineup, all hit home runs in support of Julio Urías’ six shutout innings.
The homers, including Betts’ 200th career homer, were the margin of victory. But there’s another asset that these stars in a star-filled lineup bring.
They are there every day.
The Dodgers have played 93 games, and enter Sunday 63-30 with a 10½ game division lead having won seven straight, 14 of 15, 18 of 20 and 23 of 28. Betts has played 76 because he missed time with a rib injury. Freeman and Turner have each played all 93, and here’s guessing the next time Roberts intends to provide any of the three with a day of rest, there will be a protest.
“There’s guys that are talented, but there’s also superstar players that post every day and grind it out every single day, whether they’re getting hits or not,” Roberts said. “Fortunately those three guys are in that same class. They just love to play. They love to compete. And, you know, when you play a long season, it’s really helpful to have talented players that don’t want off days, they want to play. They feel that, you know, on a given day, the best chance for us to win a ballgame is having them in there.
When your best players are out there every day, everyone else in the lineup takes note. In a sense, that’s leadership.
“You got to get to a certain point where you’re not looking to get out of the lineup,” Roberts said. “And that’s mental toughness. But you got to kind of, you know, learn that. And those guys throughout their careers, that’s what they’ve done. The season’s grueling on everyone, but to go out there day in, day out, not run from a matchup, and when not feeling your best to go out there and still have that expectation, go out there and perform, and they do it as good as I’ve seen.
“You look what they do for Gavin (Lux) in particular. I think he’s really understanding what it takes to get your body right and your mind right to get out there every day. Will Smith is a guy that … he’s not going to play (Sunday) because I caught him three days in a row, and I got to fight to get him out of the lineup. Even Cody (Bellinger), where he’s been struggling, he’s not running to get out of the lineup.”
Having players who post every possible day is huge in a season in which injuries have scuttled a lot of rosters, no thanks in part to the abbreviated spring training caused by the owners’ lockout. The Dodgers alone are missing (deep breath) starting pitchers Walker Buehler, Andrew Heaney and Dustin May, relievers Blake Treinen, Brusdar Graterol, Daniel Hudson, Tommy Kahnle and Danny Duffy, among others, as well as outfielder/infielder Chris Taylor, third baseman Edwin Rios and outfielder Kevin Pillar.
With that, and with Muncy (.157 average, .616 OPS) and Bellinger (.209, .650) struggling mightily, the club’s current run has been attributable to great starting pitching and an offense that, after a hitters’ meeting in Cincinnati a month ago, has been much better in grinding out at-bats and particularly making relievers pay late in games, as their 27 comeback victories would attest.
“Our pitching has been amazing all season,” Freeman said. “We’ve just been hitting a lot better as of late, scoring a lot of runs, letting (the starters) settle in and get deeper into ballgames. It’s just kind of been clicking on all cylinders for about four or five weeks now.”
Does he shake his head in wonder at the way this team is performing with so many pieces unavailable?
“That’s just how good this team is, how good this organization is,” he said. “Everyone has those problems throughout the course of 162. No one’s going to feel sorry for anybody. So it’s a pretty good organization. We have a ‘next man up’ mentality and that’s what we’ve been doing. And when we get some guys back here later in the season, guys start hitting, we’re gonna be really good.”
That could be scary.