ARLINGTON, Texas — The individual accomplishments of the players on the postseason roster of the Los Angeles Dodgers are bountiful.
There are Most Valuable Players, Cy Young Award winners, Rookies of the Year, All-Stars, Silver Sluggers, and Gold Gloves. Most everybody in their lineup has a bauble on their résumé.
But the only World Series rings belong to Mookie Betts and Joe Kelly, their imports from the Red Sox.
The Dodgers are desperate for the validation only a championship can bring. It sounded like a plea when manager Dave Roberts shouted, “This is our year! This is our year!” after his team won the National League pennant by beating the Atlanta Braves on Sunday night.
The World Series starts Tuesday with the Dodgers facing the Tampa Bay Rays. A 16-team tournament ended with the teams with the best regular-season records advancing.
The low-budget, high-energy Rays are a good story, but this Series is primarily a proving ground on whether the wildly talented Dodgers are a team to remember or as plastic as the grass at Globe Life Park.
If not now, when?
“We’re here to win, man,” Betts said. “You can tell. You can tell.”
The Dodgers didn’t trade three talented young players for Betts before signing him to a $365 million contract extension only because they needed a right fielder. He was bought in to push this group over the top.
“It was a huge part of the equation,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. "From our standpoint to make the investment that we did in terms of the players that we gave up to acquire him spoke to how much we felt like he was a really key, critical piece for us to add into the existing core that we had.
“Then to back it up with the contract that we did, it speaks to our belief in him not only as a player but as a person. That’s the bet that we were making and one that we felt really comfortable with then and now, watching him play outfield, even more comfortable at this point.”
In Boston, Betts was raised in an atmosphere where the only acceptable outcome, fair or not, was a parade. It was a message passed down to him from two noted ring collectors, David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, and one he helped deliver on in 2018 when the Red Sox beat many of these very same Dodgers in the Series, pushing them aside in five games.
“I remember us just grinding through at-bats the whole series. Making it tough,” Betts said. "We played good defense, pitched the ball well. Pretty much did everything well.
“But I think the most impressive thing, or the thing that we did best, was just grinding at-bats and not making anything easy. I think this [Dodgers] team does that for sure and that should help us.”
Betts has an .851 OPS through 12 postseason games and helped turn Games 5, 6, and 7 of the NLCS with spectacular plays in right field.
But there’s still a step left to take.
Roberts scheduled an optional workout on Monday after a late night and two buses were needed to ferry the players to Globe Life Park from their hotel bubble.
Betts didn’t prod his teammates onto that bus. But it was an example of how he helps foster an environment where that becomes the right thing to do.
In 2018, former Red Sox manager Alex Cora said he knew his team was in the right frame of mind when he walked through the clubhouse and heard lively baseball conversations.
Betts was center to those conversations then and now.
“We showed a lot of emotion. It was mentally exhausting, that series,” he said. “But I think it shows you why we’re here. We need to win a World Series and I think we’re all dedicated to it, for sure.”
The Dodgers have the highest payroll in baseball and the Rays the third lowest. But Betts dismisses that as any factor.
“The small-market thing, that’s not on the players,” he said. “Those guys are ball players. They’re there to win the World Series the same way we are. They didn’t make it to the World Series by accident. They’re good ball players and it’s not going to be easy by any means.”
Betts did not have a choice to play for the Dodgers but has found Los Angeles — and obviously that huge contract — to his liking. He also saw a team prepared to win now and into the future.
“Absolutely,” Betts said. “I think year in and year out, we’re going to compete. I love the coaching staff, the players obviously, the front office. Everything about the Dodgers is winning and that’s in my DNA. That’s why I chose to stay here.”