PHOENIX -- If the Dodgers reach the postseason for an unprecedented fourth consecutive season, figure Dave Roberts to be their first National League Manager of the Year Award winner since Tommy Lasorda in 1988."I'm not thinking about Manager of the Year, but what they did in '88 we talk about
PHOENIX -- If the Dodgers reach the postseason for an unprecedented fourth consecutive season, figure Dave Roberts to be their first National League Manager of the Year Award winner since Tommy Lasorda in 1988.
"I'm not thinking about Manager of the Year, but what they did in '88 we talk about a lot," Roberts said, referring to the last Dodgers World Series title. "That's where we want to get to. We want to win a championship and that's what we're working for."
As if being a first-year manager isn't a tough enough assignment, right after Roberts was hired the Dodgers lost Zack Greinke to the D-backs in free agency. Welcome back to the Dodgers, Dave.
:: 2016 Opening Day coverage ::
Then, Spring Training turned into an acid test for the new training staff.
Brett Anderson had back surgery. Andre Ethier broke a leg. Frankie Montas had a rib removed. Hyun-Jin Ryu still isn't ready to return nearly a year after shoulder surgery. Brandon McCarthy won't be back from Tommy John surgery until June. Rookie shortstop Corey Seager sprained a knee. The fifth starter is still a mystery after injuries to Brandon Beachy and Mike Bolsinger. Reliever Josh Ravin broke his arm in an auto accident. Howie Kendrick hasn't healed from a strained calf.
Less serious, but nagging injuries, have interrupted the springs of Yasiel Puig, Scott Van Slyke, Yasmani Grandal, Alex Guerrero, Carl Crawford, Kiké Hernandez, Alex Wood, Yimi Garcia, Julio Urias, Ian Thomas, and Adrian Gonzalez.
"It's part of my job, keeping that positive mindset and attitude and focus on getting better all spring," Roberts said of keeping the clubhouse from suffering a colossal case of clinical depression. "Not letting distractions and noise outside affect you."
The new manager has a new coaching staff that was essentially chosen for him by management. So, when they weren't dealing with injuries in Arizona, they were all getting to know each other.
Injuries, unfamiliarity and a weakened starting rotation are not insurmountable handicaps to overcome, but it's all factored into an unusual lead-up to Roberts' first Opening Day as a skipper. Undeterred, from a leadership point of view, Roberts' energy and positivity made a statement.
"It's different for sure, that's probably the best word for it," Clayton Kershaw said of the atmosphere Roberts created. "I love Donnie [Mattingly], [Tim] Wallach, I miss them. Doc -- and everybody says it because it's the truth -- his positive personality is infectious for sure. And we'll see with that intensity when the regular season starts, it'll be huge for us. The coaching staff is a very energetic group, a lot of younger guys that just finished playing. It's been an interesting first Spring Training, but it's been good overall."
It also seems safe to assume, although nobody comes out and directly says it, that the job of Dodgers field manager under the current regime is more collaborative than authoritarian, reflecting similar shifts seen elsewhere.
That doesn't mean Roberts will find a lineup from management on his desk when he arrives at the ballpark. But he won't be making one up on gut instinct or sticking with one because it was a winner the night before.
The Dodgers didn't hire a super-secret analytics team of dozens for the manager to ignore the numbers. Roberts has indicated that lineups will be custom made daily, depending on matchups. The Dodgers used 137 different lineups in 2015, and that number figures to rise this year.
"Every day is a new day and whatever gives us the best chance to win that day is what we'll do," he said. "Me and the coaches talk every day about what gives us the best chance to win. Same thing for the front office. There's a lot of bright people that give us information, so we can figure out what makes sense for the players and gives us the best chance to win that night. For me, this Spring Training has been an opportunity to let the players see their names in different parts of the order, it helps with the open-mindedness and getting used to it. Once the season starts, you're going to see us change things around a bit."
Analytics will find the Dodgers using even more dramatic defensive shifts more often, and it won't be limited to overloading the right side of the infield for left-handed pull hitters. In Spring Training games, the Dodgers have been overloading the left side of the infield for right-handed pull hitters.
Some, like Kershaw, have been candidly skeptical about the shifts, no surprise considering he won three NL Cy Young Awards without them. The Dodgers might bow to Kershaw's preferences, but the shifts apparently are here to stay, at least as long as the number-crunchers are.
"Shifts are a big part of our game," Roberts said. "It's the way that the game's evolved. With the data, players are starting to understand their strengths, their weaknesses. That information is great."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com.