By Jon Weisman
When the Dodgers have struggled, particularly this year, it’s been said more than once that the problem is a team with no identity outside of Clayton Kershaw.
Fans and media do a lot of weird things when they are frustrated with a team. There’s probably no topping accusing a team of having no heart when it loses a game, no matter how close — this idea that if they didn’t win, they must not have been trying.
But in the ongoing need to psychoanalyze the absence of perfection, the “no identity” crisis is a fine runner-up.
“No identity” wins points because it’s just such an obscure idea to begin with. What player walks into the batter’s box and then stops short, wondering, “Wait. I don’t really know what defines us as a club. So how do I hit that slider? Should I even try? It’s just all so confusing!”
Team identity is make-believe, one of those retroactive rationalizations that insists on turning a game of bats and balls into a Beckett play. You’ve either got guys who can do the job or you don’t.
And so, the idea of the Dodgers having no identity outside of Kershaw was always ridiculously reductive. There’s no denying that Kershaw is the Dodgers’ most valuable, most talented, most everything player — that he has been the face of the franchise for some time now. But it doesn’t mean that the others on the team stop existing.
If there’s one positive that has come in the four weeks that have come since a disc herniation sidelined Kershaw, it’s that it has exposed the lie that the 2016 Dodgers were Kershaw and nothing else.
Not only are the Dodgers 14-8 (.636) in that time, but they’ve received great contributions across the board from names big and small. Justin Turner, Yasmani Grandal, Howie Kendrick and Corey Seager are all OPSing .899 or better, while Andrew Toles (.807 OPS), Chris Taylor (.757 OPS) and Luis Avilan (18 batters, no hits, .167 OBP) have come from the minors to plug holes.
Off the disabled list, Brandon McCarthy has struck out almost exactly one third of the batters he faced (26 of 81), while holding them to a .198 OBP and .189 slugging percentage with a 1.61 ERA.
That’s just a sampling. Over the past four weeks and the past four months, there have been big moments from everyone, because that’s how this team works, whether or not Kershaw’s immense shadow obscures it.