After their early exit from the playoffs last season, the Dodgers are looking for ways to increase the intensity during their five-day break between the end of the regular season Sunday and the start of the National League Division Series.
One likely solution: Letting fans into Dodger Stadium to watch one of the team’s intrasquad scrimmages next week.
According to manager Dave Roberts, the team is planning to let fans attend its workout day on Wednesday — following the lead of the Atlanta Braves after they announced a similar plan earlier Thursday afternoon.
“I think it intensifies it a little bit more,” Roberts said of welcoming fans for the off-day activities. “No player likes to be embarrassed. And so, you’re facing your teammate, but just to go up there and strike out, that’s something. It’s not everything. But I do think that the fan experience, our guys playing in front of some warm bodies for a workout, I don’t see the downside.”
The team hasn’t officially announced any plans — including whether admission would be free and open to the public, like the Braves are doing — but Roberts indicated season-ticket holders would be part of the crowd that day.
“That’ll be a good experience for them,” Roberts said, “to watch us go through our workout.”
Last year was MLB’s first postseason under an expanded format. What was previously a one-game wild-card round was stretched into a best-of-three series. As a result, the top two-seeded teams in each league — which received byes to the division series — had five-day breaks leading up to their playoff openers.
Those extended layoffs came under the microscope when the NL’s top two seeds, the Dodgers and Braves, both lost in the division series and the AL’s No. 2 seed, the New York Yankees, were pushed to a decisive fifth game by the Cleveland Guardians.
While Roberts insisted then, and repeated Thursday, that the break wasn’t an excuse for the Dodgers’ early elimination, he has acknowledged it created challenges in the team’s preparation for their series against the San Diego Padres — who had just one day off between the wild-card round and division series.
“It’s hard,” Roberts said. “Five days is different than what we’re used to. The All-Star break is three, maybe four days, and that’s long. The [new playoffs] format works for baseball. The fanfare, the teams involved, it’s great for baseball. But when you’re living it, it’s an adjustment.”
Fans or not, the Dodgers will explore other ways to up the intensity of their off-day workouts before their playoff opener on Oct. 7 against a yet-to-be-settled opponent.
Unlike last year, Roberts said the club will spend more time drilling specific situations; including hitting with runners in scoring position, a deficiency that doomed last year’s team in the NLDS.
With a sly grin, he hinted that the players are “gonna have a little skin” in the outcome of the scrimmage.
And, he noted that the team still has a “sour taste” from last year’s four-game elimination — one that Roberts and others inside the organization and around baseball believed was at least partially attributable to an apparent lack of urgency from the team during the NLDS.
“There were at-bats in the third and fourth game, and some plays defensively, where we didn’t have as much urgency as I would have expected from our guys,” Roberts said. “So like I’ve said before, I need to do a better job of stating the importance of urgency that needs to be from our guys.”
Roberts said some of the new ideas for the five-day break came courtesy of shortstop Miguel Rojas and outfielder Mookie Betts, who ran their thoughts by Roberts during the team’s division-clinching series sweep in Seattle earlier this month.
“That’s fantastic to get that feedback,” Roberts said. “Then, there’s buy-in. So for me, it was a no-brainer.”
Roberts also reiterated his belief that this year’s team — which he has called his favorite to manage, and several players, including Betts, have called their favorite to be part of — won’t fall victim to the same uninspired lulls that cost last year’s squad.
Inviting fans to watch could be part of that process, one the Dodgers are hoping leads to a longer October run.
“Guys are getting their bearings,” Roberts said, “on what plays in the postseason.”