Some time in November, Major League Baseball will reveal the exact totals of the postseason shares for each team, the bonuses given to players and staff for reaching the playoffs, derived from gate receipts with progressively higher results the better each team finished. But no team in recent memory has exemplified the term “postseason share” more than the 2018 Dodgers.
Los Angeles is back in the World Series for a second consecutive season, the first National League team to do so since the Braves in 1995-96. The Dodgers eliminated the Brewers in seven games in the NLCS, and in doing so not only found every piece of meat off their roster, but also dug deeper and utilized much of the marrow, too.
In seven games against Milwaukee the Dodgers used 127 players, an average of 18.1 per game. There are only 25 players on the active roster in total.
To use that many players, to convince essentially 12 regular position players that sorry, there is only room for eight of you at a time, requires manager Dave Roberts getting many of his players to acquiesce to a lesser role.
“Honestly, we have no choice but to buy into it,” Matt Kemp said with a laugh during the NLDS. “We got guys on the bench that could go somewhere and play every single day and make an impact. But we’re trying to win a championship, and every guy is on the same page.”
“We just got so many dangerous guys in our lineup and even on the bench. So it’s pretty cool to see that.”
Kemp was an All-Star this season, in itself a remarkable bounce back after three subpar seasons away from the Dodgers. But in the second half his playing time waned, and he now basically only starts against left-handed pitching, if then. Kemp has started just three of the Dodgers’ 11 postseason games.
Brian Dozier is a former All-Star who hit a combined 76 home runs in 2016-17 as a second baseman. He is essentially a part-time player with the Dodgers, who acquired him at the non-waiver trade deadline. Dozier only started once so far this October.
Ditto for David Freese, a regular with the Pirates acquired by LA on Aug. 31. He has been deployed nearly exclusively as a masher of left-handed pitchers, and has excelled in that role, hitting .417/.500/.778 against southpaws with the Dodgers, including the playoffs.
Alex Wood was an All-Star in 2017 and led the Dodgers in starts this season. But he’s relegated to bullpen duty in the postseason. Ross Stripling was an All-Star starter this year for the Dodgers, but didn’t even make the roster for neither the NLDS nor NLCS.
Roles can change in a heartbeat.
“You have to be completely selfless and buy into the fact that you are really just a pitcher; not a starting pitcher, not a reliever, not a closer, not a setup guy,” said starter Rich Hill, who also pitched in relief during the NLCS. “You are a pitcher, and you are here to serve the 25 guys in there to fulfill the purpose as a team.”
With so many in-game moves by Roberts, it helps that the Dodgers have so many versatile parts. Chris Taylor, a career infielder who became a force in the outfield in the Dodgers’ 2017 run, has filled in this year in both the infield and outfield. He made a lead-saving catch in the fifth inning of Game 7 in left field, after starting the game at second base.
“We’re so used to it now. I don’t remember the last time I played a game at one position the whole game,” Taylor told Ken Rosenthal on the FS1 broadcast. “We’ve changed so much, that it just becomes second nature.” Taylor played multiple positions in five of the seven games during the NLCS, including three positions twice.
Though the Dodgers have a payroll approaching the $197 million luxury tax threshold, it’s role players like Taylor — a minor trade in 2016 for former first-round bust Zach Lee — and minor league signee Max Muncy who help drive the Dodgers’ philosophy.
This is a group effort, and if you play well, you will play.
Muncy started the season in Triple-A but ended up leading the team with 35 home runs, and has two more so far in the postseason. Last year’s Dodgers home run leader (Cody Bellinger) also started in the minors, as did Taylor. Bellinger was named this year’s NLCS MVP.
As a non-roster invitee this spring, Muncy seized his opportunity.
“For me it was more just the way they welcome everyone in. It didn’t matter if you had 10 years in the big leagues or no days in the big leagues,” Muncy said. “You know, at least for Spring Training everyone that came in there, they were treated all the exact same. Everyone was given the same opportunities.
“They kind of give you a confidence and a comfort level that no matter who you are, you’re going to have a big part in the team whether you’re going to come up and make a one-spot start as a pitcher, or you’re going to come up and fill in for a guy who got hurt or if you’re going to come in and be a long-term piece.”
That confidence has paid off, with the Dodgers back in the World Series in back-to-back years for the first time in 40 seasons.