Team chemistry in baseball can be an undervalued commodity.
Take the Los Angeles Dodgers. They can pretty much put an All-Star lineup on the field every night. Players like Shane Victorino, Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez.
You look down that Dodgers lineup and gasp.
It is filled with on-base guys, home run hitters, powerful pitchers and battle-tested postseason players. But the one thing this talented crew does not possess? It has not worked together from spring training, playing 150 games together, watching guys fight their way back from injury or slumps and forging ahead.
By contrast, the Nationals did not make any serious changes to this team midseason. The combination of veterans, rookies, trades and recent call-ups all add up to a Nationals’ team that has won 91 games and a National League playoff berth.
And in a game that is so individualized - with one batter facing one pitcher, a grounder going to straight toward an infielder or a long drive to deep center heading towards one player - some people start believing team chemistry is not as important.
They would be wrong.
Bench coach Randy Knorr, who has managed 80 percent of the roster at one time or another in five seasons and more than 350 games in the Washington organization, believes team chemistry can happen in baseball and this 2012 Nationals team offers a sterling example.
“Everybody has their own individual area they have to work in,” Knorr said. “You pull together as a team and you pick each other up when someone is down and you fight for each other. That is what we have here. There is not too many days I will look down in the dugout and somebody is having a bad day and one of those guys is over there talking to them.”
And this is not about picking on the Dodgers. They have, on paper, a virtual All-Star lineup. But they have not played together for a whole season like the Nationals have, and that can make a big difference.
“I believe in chemistry,” Knorr said. “I have heard managers say, ‘If you want chemistry, go back to school.’ Not to badmouth the Dodgers, but that Dodgers team is a pretty good team that we just beat. And they just don’t seem like they play together.”
The Nationals are not filled with rah-rah, screaming guys who shake up the clubhouse. They do have more quiet, focused, veteran guys like Adam LaRoche, Chad Tracy, Mark DeRosa and Jayson Werth, who lead by example and methodically work to get better each game. Their teammates have followed suit.
“One of our biggest silent leaders is LaRoche,” Knorr said. “He is incredible. Then we have Tracy and DeRosa. Jayson leads in his own way. We have a lot of different leaders. They make sure the ship is going where they want it to go. (Manager) Davey Johnson’s relaxed atmosphere lets them to go out and play and not worry about it and it is a great clubhouse for chemistry.”
This team has never lost back-to-back series this season. Another example of how this team has a belief in themselves every time they go on the field.
“They are not cocky, but they are confident,” manager Davey Johnson said.