LOS ANGELES—For all we know, it’s a question that goes back to Abner Doubleday: When is it no longer early in a baseball season? Or, to put it another way, when is it all right — advisable, even — to panic?
Talk to fans, and they’ll say right now.
Talk to players, and they’ll remind you that it’s April, they’ve been through this before, and it’s important to string together some victories but it’s way too soon for any sort of must-win rhetoric.
That said, “early” can be a crutch. For the Dodgers’ sake, they’d be advised to not use it.
“The whole ‘don’t panic because it’s too early’ thing doesn’t work if you’re using that in the back of your mind as an excuse,” Clayton Kershaw said Sunday afternoon.
“For me, I don’t really like that saying. There needs to be a sense of urgency every game out there … The standings, maybe, aren’t so important. But the way we play is important. We can’t have any excuses.”
No excuses were necessary Sunday. Kershaw was Kershaw, the Dodgers offense finally resembled the Dodgers offense, and the resulting 7-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks gave L.A. a chance to take a deep breath and reset.
The Dodgers had lost three straight. They were five games under .500. And they’d lost 11 straight regular-season games to the Diamondbacks dating to last August.
Gee, remember when the Dodgers were so deep in the D-Backs’ heads it was comical?
Surely, you remember the celebration in the Chase Field pool after a division clinching in 2013, months after a vicious brawl between the clubs. Four years later, after the Dodgers’ Division Series sweep last October, the D-Backs organization arranged for cops on horseback to guard the pool, just in case anybody got any ideas.
Those halcyon days seemed quite distant over the Dodgers’ last 2-1/2 weeks of sometimes frustrating, sometimes flat-out poor baseball.
Kershaw came in with a 1.89 ERA but was 0-2 mainly because he wasn’t perfect. His team had scored two runs for him in 19 innings.
And it’s eminently fair to suggest the Dodgers hitters were pressing, trying to make up for Justin Turner’s absence by doing more and instead accentuating it by doing less.
They’d scored two runs or less in six of their first 14 games and lost five of them. And they’d gotten away from the grind-it-out offensive approach that runs up pitch counts and forces mistakes.
That could have accounted for some of the anemic averages in the Dodgers’ Sunday lineup: Chris Taylor .214, Corey Seager .196, Yasiel Puig .220, Kiké Hernandez .182. (Kershaw, at .286, was outhitting them all.)
Swinging at strikes, not offering at balls: It works.
It absolutely worked against Zack Godley, who had given up one walk in 14 innings this season but walked six Sunday, gave up six runs (five earned) and was gone one batter into the fifth.
Little things can set the tone. It was set here in the second inning, after shortstop Nick Ahmed’s error on Puig’s ground ball. Austin Barnes walked on a close 3-1 pitch. Chase Utley walked on a 3-2 curve in the dirt to load the bases. Hernandez’ fly to center scored Puig to give the Dodgers a lead, and this time they built on it, instead of coughing it up as they did in Saturday night’s 9-1 loss.
“We were relentless today,” Manager Dave Roberts said. “Collectively, when we’re at our best, that’s what we’re doing.
“It’s critical, especially when you run into good pitching, where you have to be able to trust that you can run a count. When you get impatient and swing at their pitches, that leads to quick outs and low pitch counts. Today we challenged Zack to go deep into counts and for him to continue to make pitches. Fortunately for us, we won more than we lost.”
It’s not that the hitters aren’t reminded of this frequently.
“We have hitter’s meetings every day,” said Taylor, who homered, doubled and drove in three runs. “ We go over the approach, go over the scouting report against the pitcher and what our game plan is.
“It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, Probably the most important part of hitting is pitch recognition, and having the ability to swing at strikes and lay off balls.”
You learn these lessons in Little League, and you have them reinforced at each stop along the way. But then you hit a bad stretch, you try desperately to get out of it, and ultimately you have to rediscover that plate discipline in order to succeed.
. “I thought today was the best approach we’ve had offensively as a team,” Taylor said. “Hopefully we can build on that.”
Hey, why not?