Dodgers don't fear expectation of success
From days in Bronx, Mattingly comfortable performing under spotlight
DENVER -- The Dodgers are in first place in the National League West, and have been for the majority of the regular season. They entered Wednesday 10 games above .500 with a 31-21 record that was topped by only two other Major League teams, the Cardinals (34-18) and Astros (33-20).
It isn't good enough to keep folks happy, however. That's life for a team that carries fan expectations every bit as oversized as the team's record-setting $271.6 million Opening Day payroll.
Good is not good enough for the Boys in Blue, not after having won back-to-back division titles, only to be eliminated in the postseason by the Cards in six games during the 2013 NL Championship Series and in four games during the NL Division Series last October.
And the fact that the Dodgers went into Busch Stadium last weekend and lost two of three to the Cardinals only added to the angst, with St. Louis suddenly being labeled a Los Angeles stumbling block.
Those October struggles are embedded in the mind of Dodgers fans, and the Dodgers get it.
"We're supposed to do it," manager Don Mattingly said of succeeding during the regular season and postseason. "We're that veteran team. We have the big payroll. We understand that."
There's only one way to make believers of the cynics. The Dodgers have to win.
It would ease some of the hand wringing if the Dodgers can dominate the Cards during a four-game series at Dodger Stadium that begins on Thursday night. It will not erase anxiety. Los Angeles, after all, has won the regular-season series against St. Louis in each of the past four years.
That did not, however, do the Dodgers any good in October. And when you are the Dodgers, all that really counts is October.
Mattingly can deal with it. It is all he has ever known in pro ball. Mattingly did, after all, spend his playing career with the Yankees and began his non-playing career as a coach on the staff of former Yanks manager Joe Torre, coming with Torre to the Dodgers before eventually taking over as manager when Torre retired.
Mattingly lived with not only the demands of Yankees fans but of the owner, Boss George, the late George Steinbrenner, and he heard the Boss' voice loud and clear during his 13 full big league seasons.
Mattingly was a six-time All-Star, nine-time American League Gold Glove Award winner and won the AL Most Valuable Player Award in 1985. Only once, however, did he get to play in October, and while he hit .417 in the 1995 ALDS against the Mariners, the Yanks were eliminated in five games.
"You are expected to win, and if you don't, there's no reason trying to make excuses because people don't want to hear them," Mattingly said.
Mattingly is not complaining; he is being realistic.
Mattingly's job is to manage the Dodgers to victories, to figure out a way to win no matter what the roster may look like. And right now, it takes some mixing and matching to get that job done.
"It's a difficult challenge, but it's a fun challenge," Mattingly said.
Remember in Spring Training when the big question was how Mattingly could manage an outfielder that featured Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford? Well, during the first game of Tuesday's doubleheader in Colorado, Chris Heisey started in right field, with Alex Guerrero in left and Pederson in center field.
Ethier did start in right field in the nightcap, with Heisey in left, but Puig and Crawford are among 10 Dodgers currently on the disabled list, accounting for more than $60 million of the team's payroll.
Puig will take a second shot at a rehab assignment starting on Thursday at Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga, but he has been limited to 11 games so far this year because of a left hamstring strain. Crawford, sidelined with a right oblique injury, was transferred from the 15-day DL to the 60-day DL this week.
Meanwhile, Mike Bolsinger was the starting pitcher in Wednesday's series finale at Colorado, and rookie Carlos Frias is the scheduled starter for Thursday's opener against the Cardinals. Bolsinger and Frias? They are among 10 pitchers who have started at least one game this season for the Dodgers, who are trying to work their way through the loss of two of their anticipated five starting pitchers.
Projected No. 3 starter Hyun-Jin Ryu never took a Major League mound this year, undergoing left shoulder surgery on May 21 that officially ended his season. Brandon McCarthy was 3-0, but after his fourth start, he was sidelined with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery.
As if the loss of closer Kenley Jansen (offseason foot surgery) for the first six weeks of the season while he recovered from foot surgery wasn't enough the bullpen is now missing Pedro Baez, who had a 1.76 ERA in 15 appearances before sustaining a right pectoral strain, along with veteran right-handers Chad Gaudin (right wrist surgery), Brandon League (right shoulder inflammation) and Joel Peralta (pinched nerve in neck), plus left-hander Paco Rodriguez (left elbow strain).
The Dodgers, however, have survived to remain atop the division.
"It is a tribute to what [president of baseball operations] Andrew Freidman and his guys have done in creating depth for us," Mattingly said of the front-office staff and the scouts.
Mattingly has done a pretty good job himself of keeping the team focused.