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As Dodgers win big with extreme platooning, a theme emerges: 'Throw your ego out the door'  8 Months ago

Source:   USA Today  

MILWAUKEE – Max Muncy and his Los Angeles Dodgers teammates were only a few minutes into their charter flight to the National League Championship Series on Thursday afternoon when it was determined Muncy would be on the bench for Games 1 and 2.

As the Dodgers climbed to a cruising altitude, the Milwaukee Brewers revealed that left-handers Gio Gonzalez and Wade Miley will start the games at Miller Park on Friday and Saturday night. And a southpaw starting means Muncy sits – even though he hammered 35 home runs this season, is the Dodgers’ most frequent No. 3 hitter, and blasted a pair of big homers in their Division Series conquest of the Atlanta Braves.

Such is life on the Dodgers, whose extreme platooning practices produce a new lineup nearly every game – yet also breeds a controlled chaos that compels players to ignore their pedigrees and embrace the collective good.

“The biggest thing is throw your ego out the door,” says Enrique Hernandez, who bounces all over the field and up and down the lineup with aplomb, “and just come in here with the same goal as a unit – to win the World Series and it doesn’t matter how that is – who plays, and who doesn’t.”

The Dodgers enter this NLCS on a 13-4 hot streak that saw them overtake the Colorado Rockies for the NL West title and steamroll the Braves in the NLDS. Just two players started every game of that defining stretch: Shortstop Manny Machado and third baseman Justin Turner.

The rest of the lineup comes from a group of 11 players who start and sit based almost entirely on the opposing pitcher, and the constant tweaks create something of a “Where’s Waldo?” effect on the lineup card. Hernandez has batted first, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth in the past three weeks alone as he and Chris Taylor both started at three positions.

In these 17 games that determined their season, the Dodgers rolled out 14 lineup combinations, sometimes just a mild flip-flop deep in the order, minor tweaks to gain any edge dredged up from the exhaustive analytics that filter from the front office to manager Dave Roberts to the clubhouse.

And it is perhaps the final portion of the information journey that is most important: That the affected group accepts the decisions gracefully.

“I think I can speak for everyone in that clubhouse - they all show up every single day preparing like they’re starting that day, even if they’re not,” Muncy said Thursday, shortly after the club’s arrival at Miller Park. “That’s what makes us so good – every single person in there prepares every single day like they’re going to be playing.”

It is inevitable many will not, and the members of this platoon are well-decorated: Seven former All-Stars. Two NLCS MVPs, including one – infielder-outfielder Taylor – who claimed those honors just last season.

And one Yasiel Puig.

But this bunch – we’ll call them Andrew’s Eleven, after baseball operations president Andrew Friedman – is as even-keeled as it is talented. Or perhaps one breeds the other.

“This is a chill group,” says infielder David Freese, the 2011 NLCS and World Series MVP acquired by the Dodgers just minutes before the Aug. 31 trade deadline. “This is a group that, middle of October especially, understands priority, understands what we’re going after. The Dodgers are as analytical as everybody; it’s just how they go about it.

“But when you have this much talent, you’re going to have a squad no matter who’s on the bump. It’s fun.”

Indeed, the Dodgers in the aggregate are daunting: Nobody in the NL hit the ball harder (79% of the time) or over the fence more often (an NL-best 235 home runs).

Seven Dodgers – none of them named Turner or Machado – hit at least 21 home runs. The club won 92 games, and sometimes a direct line can be drawn from lineup tinkering to victory.

In Hernandez’s only game at the leadoff spot during their decisive stretch, the opener of the season’s final series at San Francisco, he led off the game with a single and produced three hits off Giants ace Madison Bumgarner; the Dodgers won that game 3-1, swept the Giants and beat the Rockies in a one-game playoff for the division title.

Results like that mean Roberts never has to say much.

“The why is explained a lot through the regular season,” says Roberts, “and in the postseason things do happen more quickly. There has to be a trust embedded in your culture and your team, where you just kind of do what you're asked, because there's a lot of thought and preparation that goes in every decision we make.

“And fortunately for us, we have that.”

Muncy’s 35 home runs came in just 395 at-bats, and his batting average (.255, instead of .266) and OPS (.891 compared to 1.001) are far from disastrous against lefties. His baseball rebirth after his March 2017 release by the Oakland A’s – “I wasn’t good enough to play for a team finishing 20 games out of first the couple years I was there,” he said – would make compelling prime-time fodder this weekend.

Instead, he’ll jog out to the third base line Friday night with the rest of the Dodgers reserves during pregame introductions and await his late-inning chance, probably against a right-handed reliever like Corey Knebel or Jeremy Jeffress.

Come Game 3 in Los Angeles, against Brewers right-hander Jhoulys Chacin, Muncy’s window will open. His comportment in the meantime will certainly count for something, too.

“It takes a special group of individuals,” says Freese. “That’s what matters. One guy can raise hell, can cause issues when it comes to playing time. It gets covered by what we’re trying to accomplish. We’re on the same page and we’re getting after it.”


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