Despite superstar additions, Dodgers still feeling 'sting' of last year's NLDS sweep

Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman, front, looks on with Jason Hayward, Dino Ebel, manager Dave Roberts and Bob Geren.

The wounds from the Dodgers’ empty October are no longer fresh.

But even in the wake of a $1-billion offseason spending spree, and at the outset of a highly anticipated new campaign, the team’s latest postseason implosion still stings.

Four months later, the frustration from the Dodgers' National League Division Series sweep by the Arizona Diamondbacks continues to linger.

“Absolutely not,” first baseman Freddie Freeman said when asked if the offseason additions of Shohei Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto and others helped lessen the pain of that elimination — the second year in a row the Dodgers failed to advance.

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“No matter what we do, someone can always bring up, 'Well, the last couple years, they didn't win,' ” fellow superstar Mookie Betts added. “Well yeah, we didn't. But we can't really focus on that. We got to focus on the task going forward. On paper, we're good. But we got to go play."

Such has been the message around Dodgers camp this week, as the team reported to Camelback Ranch for the start of full-squad workouts.

Before Wednesday’s opening practice, manager Dave Roberts gathered the team in the clubhouse for his annual start-of-spring speech. He didn’t make a show of introducing Ohtani or Yamamoto; the newly signed Japanese stars have been doing that on their own. He didn’t cede the floor to any players either.

Instead, Roberts’ words centered around a central theme: “Appreciating the fact that we have a talented roster,” he said, “but it’s up to us to play good baseball, get better each day, and embrace the idea that people are coming after us.”

That latter sentiment had been the case long before the arrivals of Ohtani, Yamamoto, Tyler Glasnow and Teoscar Hernández.

For much of Roberts’ eight-year tenure, World Series-or-bust pressure has been the norm.

“There’s a heightened responsibility when you wear this jersey,” he said.

Dodgers' Freddie Freeman says of last season's playoff loss: "It's still going to sting until you win a World Series."
Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman says of last season's playoff loss: "It's still going to sting until you win a World Series." (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

The last several years, however, the Dodgers have fallen woefully short.

Despite three straight 100-win seasons, they’ve yet to return to the World Series since their 2020 title. Two years ago they were eliminated in four games by the San Diego Padres. Last October they failed to win a game against the Diamondbacks, who went on to win the NL pennant.

“We got one goal every year and that's to win the World Series,” Freeman said. “That's just who we are. I think more the sting [was], we got swept. That makes it sting even more.”

So too did the fact that Freeman and Betts — both finalists for NL most valuable player thanks to their regular-season dominance — combined for just one hit in 21 at-bats.

“You think about just more of the ending, going one for 11, not doing well in the playoffs, not ending the way I wanted to, not helping the team,” Freeman said, echoing comments Betts made earlier in the week about his own struggles.

“It's still going to sting until you win a World Series,” Freeman added. “Every year, that's your one goal. I've only accomplished that once and this is Year 15, so there's a sting 14 other years.”

The Dodgers’ ability to avoid a similar fate should hinge heavily upon Ohtani and Yamamoto — needing the duo to not only shine on the field in their first season with the club, but also fit into a clubhouse that has undergone significant change over the last several winters.

“When you play against certain guys, you have respect for those guys and then you get them in the same uniform, you just try and come together as soon as you can as a group,” Freeman said. “I think we’re doing a pretty good job so far.”

Veteran shortstop Miguel Rojas, who carved out a leadership role last season in his return to the team, concurred.

He called Ohtani a “once-a-lifetime” talent, comparing the slugger’s batting practice Wednesday — in which Ohtani hit 10 home runs in 29 swings — to the swings of reigning NL MVP Ronald Acuña Jr., whom Rojas played winter ball with in Venezuela this offseason.

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“It’s different,” Rojas said. “The sound of the bat, the way the ball jumps off his bat … I’m already impressed.”

And when factoring in all the other new additions, Rojas said the objective is clear.

“It's pretty obvious that everybody in this clubhouse feels like we need to find a way to close the deal, which is winning baseball games in the postseason and converting what we were trying to do here, which is winning a championship,” Rojas said.

“I think this team is going to be really good on paper, but we still need to go out there and execute,” he added. “You can win as many games as you want during the regular season, but if you don’t win games in the postseason, it’s a failure. So for me, it’s all about getting into that position again and being better prepared.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.