This season has been a wild one for the Dodgers, one filled with contradictions on a roller-coaster course.
How could a team comprised of mainly anonymous players have the best record in baseball? Then, more importantly, how can a team stacked with quality players falter so badly?
There isn’t one simple answer to that question. There are many factors that comprise and influence a professional sports team.
Chemistry, mentality, morale, luck and, of course, raw physical talent all play a role in a team’s success.
So what is it about this Dodgers team that has had fans jumping for joy at the beginning of the season and now perplexedly scratching their heads?
Yes, these are professional athletes (and grown men), and they should ideally keep tunnel vision and merely focus on playing the game of baseball, but it’s clear that the players on this team are feeling the pressure of expectations to succeed coming from all directions.
That pressure was nowhere to be found in April.
After a few disappointing seasons during the Frank McCourt era, the expectations were very low for the Dodgers this season. Although they were hopeful that core stars Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw and James Loney could help carry the team, nobody was expecting much from this squad.
And that’s what they bet on: the mentality of an underdog. They wanted to prove the naysayers wrong. They were convinced that they could defy all odds.
And they did.
With minor league call-ups like Elian Herrera and Ivan De Jesus coming up clutch, the Dodgers saw production from throughout their lineup and boasted a 32-15 record, the best in the MLB, in late May.
Then, the excitement began to brew. Sports analysts began toying with the idea of the Dodgers winning the NL West, and even loftier predictions arose. Speculation began: “Are the Dodgers the best team in baseball?”
As the anticipation fermented, the Brewers came to Chavez Ravine and handed the Dodgers their first sweep of the season by holding them to eight runs in four games.
Although the Blue Crew battled back by winning a series on the Phillies’ home field, they went into the All-Star break on a 5-15 skid.
Perhaps everything leveled itself out and the team finally surfaced to its true playing level, or perhaps the underdog mentality had simply worn off.
The new ownership, Guggenheim Baseball Management, noted the decline and made a name for itself by shocking the MLB and acquiring Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford.
The expectations became even loftier, and they now contained real substance, as the Dodgers had an All-Star meat of the order that was one of the best in the National League.
Headlines now read “Are the Dodgers World Series favorites?” even before the new unit had stepped on the field together.
In that moment, the buzz in Los Angeles transcended the game of baseball. To add to the roar of elated Dodgers fans, Hanley Ramirez brought his “I See You” hands to the club, and Adrian Gonzalez belted a home run in his first at-bat in Dodger blue.
That roar has become a feeble chirp.
The Dodgers are now 27-30 since the All-Star break and are struggling to close the gap in both the NL West pennant and NL Wild Card races.
Cue the criticism. Cue the rants from disappointed fans.
You can only imagine that thrusting such criticism and continued expectations upon the Dodgers star players can only weigh them down.
Questions like “Why can’t these guys hit?” weigh on their bats like a donut.
It’s no surprise that the Dodgers’ top hitters in September are Mark Ellis and Luis Cruz. They are playing baseball. It’s a game for them.
For the struggling meat of the order, this isn’t a game that’s played on the field. It’s a head game. The stakes are set—go out and prosper.
Every team should be held to a high standard by its organization and its fans. Otherwise, why would the majority of fans follow a team if it had no chance of winning?
However, baseball is a hugely mental game. You get few opportunities to prove yourself every game. And when you don’t, you must welcome the criticism, even from your home fans.
Why do fans boo the home team? Expectations.
With only a few weeks left of baseball left for the Dodgers in the 2012 season, all that can be expected from them is that they play baseball, regardless of the chatter.
If they do so, they may just meet those pesky expectations.