LOS ANGELES – You let it, the damn thing’ll talk you into anything.
That’s because it runs it all through your heart first, before it can get to your brain or your stomach or any of those places where you go, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, that can’t be right.” The heart is where all the common sense is filtered out, which is fine, because, like the bleacher proverb goes, “If it looks too good to be true, then lash it to your self-worth and change your plans for October.”
So, yeah, go Mets. Go Buccos. Go Angels.
And go Diamondbacks.
It was early evening and warm, summer coming to a place where it never actually leaves, but, still. Warm. In the hours before a baseball game, a couple weeks into a baseball season, one manager, this one of the Los Angeles Dodgers, was flossing buoyancy from the teeth of what was about to become his eighth loss in 12 games. The other manager, he of the Arizona Diamondbacks, shrugged a lot and grinned and admitted, under relentless questioning, to be “pleased” with what soon would be his 10th win in 13 games. Very “pleased,” he said, like a puppy spitting out a pearl earring.
They are both by nature optimists, Dave Roberts and Torey Lovullo. It’s a hell of a job if you’re not, after all. Wrecks guys who are not. Darkens their eyes and narrows their spines and makes their feet squish when they walk, what with all the leaking serotonin.
And Roberts has the club that, in counting its consecutive NL West titles, has moved on to another hand. And Lovullo has the club that last year won 93 games and almost never had a shot. And, within hours, the club that would win its 10th consecutive regular season game againstRoberts and the Dodgers, except, as Lovullo pointed out, “You can’t forget they won three very important games in the middle of these [about to be 10] games.”
Those would be the three playoff games last fall.
The lesson there, he added, “They’re still the Dodgers.”
Here’s the beauty of all this, “all this” being the Dodgers playing like they barely have any patience for this regular-season nonsense and the Diamondbacks playing like they have no intention of trying to simply outpoint the champ, and that is that sometimes it’s all real. You’re just not allowed to find out for a while yet. So, just because the team that has won the West for five years in a row (and by an average of eight games) returns many of the same gentlemen, and wears the same unis, and has Vegas (and, sure, logic) on its side to do it again, doesn’t mean your heart doesn’t have it right. Doesn’t mean the Diamondbacks aren’t better. Doesn’t mean a couple weeks in April can’t be real, can’t mean something.
Also, there’d be nothing wrong, nothing unhealthy, with the Diamondbacks being obsessed with beating the Dodgers. Like, a little crazy over it. Like, ammonia in your nostrils and coffee grounds in your veins crazy. So maybe there’s that, too. Check your heart on that one.
The Dodgers are down Justin Turner. The Diamondbacks are down Jake Lamb and Steven Souza. The Dodgers have a bunch of guys who are not hitting. Paul Goldschmidt is batting .191, and looks it. The Dodgers haven’t won so much as a series. The Diamondbacks have won four.
All of which could change in a week. None of which changed last week. Yet, it is perhaps no more complicated than Rich Hill on Saturday night and Clayton Kershaw on Sunday afternoon. It is perhaps as complicated as a buckled bullpen and too much faith in too much 2017 smoke.
“It’s getting back to playing good baseball,” Roberts said not all that long after the Oakland A’s beat him by 10 runs, “regardless of who the opponent is.”
Soon enough, you’d suppose.
“I know that the Dodgers are the defending National League champions,” Lovullo said. “I know that they are the team that eliminated us. We don’t need to look farther than across the field to know where we stand.”
It’s probable that the element that separates the Dodgers from the Diamondbacks, or the Diamondbacks from the Dodgers, hasn’t yet arisen.
You look closely and play it out a day, a week, a month, over a whole summer. It’s the pitching. It’s the hunger. It’s the destiny. It’s your heart, calling. It’s trying to tell you what it is that will decide the NL West. That thing that will separate the Dodgers from their run of Octobers, some better than others, none of them exactly what they’d hoped for.
Then you realize.
That thing could be the Colorado Rockies.
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