Need for LA: Middle infielders need more than half a season to work together on a championship team
Across the baseball world, writers and experts applaud the Dodgers acquisitions. At the trade deadline, Los Angeles landed two veteran All-Stars to improve their midfielder, in the hope that this duo would lead last year’s National League champions to their first World Series title since 1986.
Brian Dozier, who recently set a record for home runs by a second baseman, came to the West Coast in a deal with the Minnesota Twins. Just the day before, Los Angeles made a transaction to remove 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 more than demonstrated their defensive skills, having won several Golden Gloves between them.
However, the history of baseball seems to indicate that average infielders need a lot of time playing together before they can win it all. A look back at the most recent November provides an idea of how important it is for the second baseman and shortstop to spend more than a few months together.
Last year Houston featured the phenomenal pairing of José Altuve and Carlos Correa, who have been playing side by side for an extended period. Twelve months earlier, the Cubs had young Javier Baez and Addison Russell, who had gotten used to each other the previous season.
The year before, veterans Omar Infante and Alcides Escobar held the center of the diamond for the second consecutive season, helping the Kansas City Royals to their first World Series title in thirty years. The connected center box, combined with a superb, deep bullpen, took the Series away from the New York Mets.
That tandem had drawn close in 2014, when the Royals won the pennant but lost to the Giants in the Fall Classic. The San Francisco center-infield players had only been together since shortly before the All-Star break, when rookie Joe Panik was called up to the majors to take over at second base in late June.
Fortunately for the Giants, they had a veteran Gold Glove winner at shortstop to help their young double-game partner acclimatize. Brandon Crawford more than fulfilled that role, having played on the San Francisco championship teams in 2010 and 2012.
For additional evidence of the importance of a well connected shortstop and second base, one can look back even further. In the 1990s, the Yankees dominated the baseball postseason, supported by shortstop Derek Jeter and his double-game partner Chuck Knoblauch.
How about the decade before that? Reagan-era Detroit Tigers teams enjoyed the luxury of having Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker playing side by side, highlighted by a 1984 World Series title. In the 1970s, the Big Red Machine was driven by having shortstop Dave Concepcion 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 do you know what is much more difficult to find? The answer is a single team that has won the World Series after having replaced both shortstop and second baseman midway through the season, which is what the Dodgers hope to accomplish this year.
Dozier homered in each of his first two games for 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 final goal.