LA Need: It takes more than half a season for midfielders to work together on a championship team
Throughout the baseball world, writers and pundits applaud the Dodgers’ acquisitions. At the trade deadline, Los Angeles landed two veteran All-Stars to improve its middle infield, hoping the duo would lead last year’s NL champions to their first World Series title since 1986.
Brian Dozier, who recently set a home run record for a second baseman, came to the West Coast in a deal with the Minnesota Twins. Just the day before, Los Angeles made a deal to get shortstop Manny Machado from the Baltimore Orioles.
Those acquisitions will most likely help the Dodgers’ offense, but they could very well negatively affect what happens on the diamond. Both Machado and Dozier have amply demonstrated their defensive skills, having won multiple Gold Gloves between them.
However, baseball history seems to indicate that middle infielders need a lot of time playing together before they can win it all. A look back over recent Novembers gives a sense of how important it is for the second baseman and shortstop to spend more than a few months together.
Last year, Houston had the phenomenal pairing of José Altuve and Carlos Correa, who have been playing side by side for an extended period of time. Twelve months earlier, the Cubs had youngsters Javier Baez and Addison Russell, who had acclimated to each other the previous season.
The year before, veterans Omar Infante and Alcides Escobar manned the middle of the diamond for the second straight season, helping the Kansas City Royals win their first World Series title in thirty years. The connected center infield, combined with a superb, deep bullpen, snatched the Series from the New York Mets.
That tandem came closer in 2014, when the Royals won the pennant but lost to the Giants in the Fall Classic. San Francisco’s middle infielders had only been together since shortly before the All-Star break, when rookie Joe Panik was called up to the majors to take over second base in late June.
Fortunately for the Giants, they had a veteran Gold Glove winner at shortstop to help their young double-play partner acclimate. Brandon Crawford more than fulfilled that role, as he played on San Francisco’s championship teams in 2010 and 2012.
For additional evidence of the importance of a well-connected shortstop and second baseman, one can look back even further. In the 1990s, the Yankees dominated baseball’s postseason, anchored by shortstop Derek Jeter and his double-play partner Chuck Knoblauch.
What about the decade before that? The Reagan Era Detroit Tigers teams enjoyed the luxury of having Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker playing side by side, highlighted by a World Series title in 1984. In the 1970s, the Big Red Machine was powered by shortstop Dave Concepción and second baseman Joe Morgan for extended seasons, culminating in back-to-back championships in 1975 and 1976.
You can find many more examples in the annals of baseball, but you know what’s much harder to find? The answer is a single team that won the World Series after replacing both shortstop and second base midway through the season, which is what the Dodgers hope to accomplish this year.
Dozier homered in each of his first two games with Los Angeles, and Machado had four hits. Baseball history, however, seems to suggest that the newcomers will need more than two months together to get their team to the finish line.