On Tuesday night, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was named the National League Manager of the Year. The honor was richly deserved for the first-year skipper, who piloted his club through a record-setting number of injuries to its fourth-straight National League West title.
From the time the Dodgers parted ways with manager Don Mattingly at the end of the 2015 season and until they hired Roberts, there was much uncertainty in Los Angeles. Although some fans criticized Mattingly for managerial mistakes, he did lead the Dodgers to the postseason three of five years that he was in L.A. With their large payroll and a roster filled with superstars, the Dodgers had enormous expectations. What manager would have the personality to take on that difficult job?
From the day he was hired, Roberts had the city counting on him to take the Dodgers to the next level. A graduate of UCLA, Roberts played center field and was a leadoff hitter for the Dodgers from 2002-04. He was a fan favorite in L.A. because he was always upbeat and got the most out of his ability.
That upbeat attitude helped him handle the Dodgers in 2016. No matter how discouraging things looked, he never lost faith in his team. From the beginning of Spring Training, injuries besieged the Dodgers. Roberts was never able to have a set lineup, and he asked players to accept roles they weren't accustomed to. He made Chase Utley a leadoff hitter for the first time in his 15-year career, and Utley was the offensive catalyst. Howie Kendrick, who had played second base most of his career, played left field.
Injuries decimated the starting rotation. The only starter in the rotation on Opening Day who lasted the entire season was rookie Kenta Maeda. The Dodgers used 15 starting pitchers.
Since his starters often did not last past five innings, Roberts relied heavily on the bullpen, using relievers more than any other team in the Majors. The bullpen had the best ERA in baseball until the playoffs, when the relievers finally were overtaxed and ineffective. Roberts, working in conjunction with pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, tried to limit the innings and pitches for every reliever. The only reliever who had a defined role for the Dodgers was Kenley Jansen.
At the end of June, when the Dodgers trailed the Giants by about eight games and ace Clayton Kershaw was sidelined for two months with a herniated disk in his lower back, things looked bleak, but Roberts refused to let the players give up on themselves. Until then, the offensive production had been inconsistent. However, something happened to bring the Dodgers together, and they began playing like a championship-caliber team. Roberts knew how to motivate his players. He never complained about how many injuries his team had.
In previous seasons, baseball people criticized the Dodgers for a lack of grit, but not this year. Roberts, a cancer survivor, exhibited superior communication skills, which enabled him to get everyone to work together for a common goal and not worry about personal statistics.
For the first time since Tommy Lasorda took the 1977 Dodgers to the World Series, a first-year Dodgers manager took his team to the postseason.
Hopefully, the 2017 season will be easier for Roberts, but it appears he will be ready to handle anything.
Esurance MLB Awards week concludes Friday on MLB Network and MLB.com at 8 p.m. ET with the MLB Awards. Categories include Best Major Leaguer, Hitter, Pitcher, Rookie, Executive and Manager.
Sarah D. Morris can be reached at email@example.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.