At the start of the final regular-season homestand, the Dodgers clubhouse was practically a ghost town.
No music. No banter. No laughter. Barely any players around.
“I guess so,” closer Kenley Jansen said.
The Dodgers were about to secure their fifth consecutive division championship. They had more wins than any team in the major leagues.
Locker rooms of postseason-bound teams typically radiate excitement. Maybe the Dodgers were partying it up in the ever-expanding sections of clubhouse that are off-limits to the media — I was told that wasn’t the case — but the atmosphere was as mundane as it would have been had they spent the last two or three months at the bottom of the standings.
Were the Dodgers ready for October baseball? If you visited their clubhouse last month, you had to wonder.
Jansen promised they were, as he chose to interpret the silence as a positive sign, an indication the other players shared his determined mind-set.
“I’m not that excited about winning the division,” Jansen said. “My focus is one goal, to bring a championship back to L.A. I think it should be everybody’s focus and I think it is.”
Perhaps Jansen is right. Perhaps the Dodgers are on their way to claiming their first World Series championship in 29 years. There are reasons to be optimistic. Corey Seager has rediscovered his offensive rhythm. Trade-deadline reinforcement Yu Darvish closed the regular season with a series of promising starts.
But there are also reasons to think the curious atmosphere around the team is the result of a lack of direction.
The Dodgers always looked susceptible to something like this because of how they constructed their team. They utilized platoons at multiple positions and maximized their 40-man roster by using the 10-day disabled list as a taxi squad.
When rosters expanded in September, the Dodgers made the most of that too. But the locker room became overcrowded, with space taken by players who didn’t have clearly identified reasons to be there.
Who are the Dodgers? The question became harder to answer as the season went on.
It’s said that a man’s strengths originate from the same place as his weaknesses. A similar statement could be made about this team.
The Dodgers aren’t overly dependent on one player. This helped them rack up victories at a record pace, even when players such as Clayton Kershaw and Justin Turner were on the disabled list.
However, this became a problem when the team inexplicably transformed into the worst team in the majors in late August. Kershaw pitches only every five days and prefers to lead by example. Chase Utley and Corey Seager aren’t talkers. Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier were injured. Cody Bellinger was still a rookie.
Without any single player capable of taking control of the situation, the Dodgers lost 16 times in 17 games. The leadership vacancy was pronounced enough for Jansen to become the rare reliever to serve as the team’s de facto spokesman.
Jansen disputed this characterization of his team.
“I think we’re more looking to October,” Jansen reiterated. “There are a lot of people in here who have won the division multiple times.”
The Dodgers popped champagne after they won the division title, but it was a relatively low-key celebration. The mood didn’t change in the days that followed, but manager Dave Roberts voiced a similar opinion as his closer as described his team as a quietly confident.
“Right now, we have a good feeling in the clubhouse,” Roberts said.
To his point: The Dodgers won eight of their last 10 regular-season games.
As for the nightmarish 17-game stretch, Jansen was certain the losses didn’t reveal any fatal shortcomings.
“It’s part of baseball,” he said. “Baseball is not going to love you all the time. Everybody got cold at the same time. You start to press a little bit.”
Jansen claimed the team still had the self-belief that pushed them to so many come-from-behind wins earlier in the season.
“We’re not panicking in here,” Jansen said. “We know who we are.”
He predicted September would one day be looked back with fondness.
“If we win the World Series this year,” he said, “everybody will laugh about how we lost 11 in a row.”
Of course, if they don’t, it will be seen as a sign of what was to come.