He is on his way to begin his Spring Training day at the Dodgers’ facility at Camelback Ranch, just four months from when Manny Machado struck out to end the 2018 World Series, and eight months or so from when the ’19 Series will end. Dave Roberts, whose team has
He is on his way to begin his Spring Training day at the Dodgers’ facility at Camelback Ranch, just four months from when Manny Machado struck out to end the 2018 World Series, and eight months or so from when the ’19 Series will end. Dave Roberts, whose team has now lost the past two Series, is talking about his message to the '19 Dodgers as they try to do something no team has done in 20 years in baseball:
Make it to three World Series in a row.
“We’re talking as little as we can about ’17 and ’18 around here,” Roberts said. “We’re focused on ’19. I keep telling our guys, ‘Think micro.’ Think about this season, a day at a time. Think about the season we’re about to play. If there’s one core message I have, for our players and our staff and our whole organization, it’s simple. 2019 is the core message.”
We are always obsessed with the Red Sox and the Yankees, every single spring. The Red Sox try to win their second World Series in a row, and what would be their fifth since 2004, when Roberts not only played for them, but might have stolen the single most famous base in October history, in the bottom of the ninth of Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. It was an iconic, bang-bang moment at second base that was the beginning of the most famous comeback in the history of the sport, and maybe all American professional sports.
The Yankees? They try to make it back to the Series for the first time in 10 years, the expectations for them as sky high as they ever are in New York.
But it is the Dodgers who are trying to make it three in a row. You want to know how many teams in baseball history not named Yankees have made it to three World Series in a row? Four. The Tigers did it between 1907 and '09, and became the only team in more than 100 years of baseball to lose three in a row. The Giants played four in a row between '21 and '24. The Orioles did it between '69 and ’71. The A’s won three in a row between ’72 and ’74. That’s it.
The last Yankees team to make it to at least three Series in a row were Joe Torre’s clubs, who went for four in a row between 1998 and Luis Gonzalez’s bloop single off Mo Rivera in Phoenix, bottom of the ninth of Game 7 in ’01. Now the Dodgers take their shot, not just wanting to make it to the Series this time, but wanting very much to close the deal and become the first Dodgers team since '88 to win it all.
Two years ago the Dodgers lost to the Astros in seven games, a World Series they likely would have won if Clayton Kershaw had been able to hold a 4-run lead in Game 5 at Minute Maid Park, a game the Astros finally ended up winning, 13-12. Last year it was different. They ran into a Red Sox team having one of the great seasons in baseball history.
“[The Red Sox] were a better ballclub playing better than us,” Roberts said on Wednesday morning. “There it is. When you get to the Series, you’ve gotta be playing your best baseball. We didn’t. We pitched OK. But we didn’t swing the bat the way we needed to. They got the big hits. We didn’t.”
So now those four months removed from the last out of Game 5 against the Red Sox the manager of the Dodgers, one who did such a superb job in a season while using a total of 52 players, says this:
“I will argue that we’ve not just got more depth, one through 25, than any team in baseball, we’ve got the most depth one through 35. I honestly believe this has a chance to be a very special group. But what I’m telling them is that we can’t control the World Series right now. We have to remain steadfast about keeping the blinders on, [one] day at a time. We want to be the kind of team, even early in the season, that doesn’t want to [throw] away a single at-bat, even when we’re losing 6-1 in the sixth inning.”
Roberts talks about how he didn’t have Justin Turner, the beating heart of his team, for two months last season. He talks about getting Corey Seager (“our best player”) back after Seager played just 26 games in 2018. Roberts expects a much bigger year from Cody Bellinger than he got last season, when Bellinger’s home run total dropped from 39 to 25. He expects Austin Barnes to be a far better hitter this season than he was last season.
“This,” the manager of the Dodgers says finally, “is as good a group as I’ve had here.”
Then he adds this:
“We all know we should win our [National League West] division.”
Roberts knows all about the vagaries of October, how fragile the season’s biggest games are; knows that if he doesn’t beat Jorge Posada’s throw to Derek Jeter that night at Fenway Park in 2004, perhaps the Red Sox don’t make all the history they’ve made since that night. He knows firsthand now, after all the grind of the past two seasons, all the fine work he’s done with the Dodgers, what it is like to twice see the opposing team celebrate a Series championship at Dodger Stadium.
Now the Dodgers try to do it again, continue a sports renaissance in L.A. that really began with them. Dave Roberts’ Dodgers go for a different kind of three-peat. Looking ahead instead of looking back. Trying to get back to the end of October a day at a time. Lot of good stories this year in baseball. Not one more compelling than this one.
Mike Lupica is columnist for MLB.com.