Baseball is a team sport—in the sense that, when you screw up, there are plenty of people around who will be angry with you. So yes, other than that, it's almost entirely individual. There is, of course, the batter-pitcher matchup, the splendid mano-on-mano contests at the heart of this game. But even on defense, the ball finds you and you're, most of the time, all alone out there.
Still, the team dynamic does play a role. As I've written about before, the larger picture hangs over baseball probably more than any sport. With 162 games and numerous cross-continental trips, being successful in this game is nearly as much about mental endurance as it is talent. If you want to win, you can't have one and not the other.
Also, to put it plainly, it helps to not hate each other. And it probably helps, at least a little bit, to like each other too. I know "team chemistry" is a subject most people don't like to talk about, and for good reason. Good chemistry isn't going to win you games by itself, and good chemistry normally comes from winning in the first place.
But still, I heard something that made me pause, and at least think. And I want to pass it along because maybe it'll make you do the same. Maybe not, but here it is. I was listening to the Mariners podcast yesterday (again, highly recommended), and Gary Hill Jr. included some of Rick Rizzs' and Mike Blowers' pre-game dialogue from Thursday night. They were talking about how, with 22 of their first 34 games on the road, they did an exceptional job hanging around .500.
Blowers, though, raised an interesting point. He said there was a good side, albeit a 'soft' one, to the Mariners opening up the season with some tough road trips:
They really have played well, and sometimes—I thought about this on the way home last night—you go out on the road, especially a difficult road trip, and you start to gel and get together as a group. And there’s a lot of power in that, because you’re together the whole time. And then you start to win a couple of games, which they did in New York—had the day off in New York because of the rain, guys get together, they go do some things. There’s something about that, and it looks to me that they just continue to pick each other up. And they’re playing much better baseball.
I like Mike Blowers, I think we all do. Yes, through his powers, he does seem to know all things—but besides that, he's around this team a lot, especially on the road trips, and he has as good a sense as anyone outside the clubhouse for the interpersonal dynamics at play with this team.
Now, do they matter? I don't know. No one does. Many would say 'no,' and probably even more would say 'yes' with neither side having definitive proof it's right.
Pulling a little anecdotal evidence on the teamworm component, someplace chemistry might come into play, here's a quick quote from Michael Saunders on The Steve Sandmeyer Show, where he responds to Jason Churchill's question on if batters are talking much between themselves about what they're seeing up at the plate:
Constantly, especially during games. Pitchers can vary throughout their starts. You know, one time, they can be sitting an easy 92-93, his arm feels good, he’s got good movement. Other times, he just doesn’t have a feel for a pitch the next outing. So not only video pre game, so you kind of see what you’re going up against and you see how he attacks hitters, but talking especially during games. That’s where your leadoff guy comes into play and, from myself being a lefty—guys like Seager, guys like Smoak, Cano, Brad Miller, Ackley, the rest of ’em. We exchange information with each other and we just try to get the upper hand and the more knowledge is power, especially with baseball and the more prepared you are, the better off you’re going to be.
Is a long road trip going to lead to better facilitation of that type of communication? I don't know. Again, no one does. Still, I wanted to pass along something I found interesting in that Mike Blowers comment.
If nothing else comes from that road trip, from an off-the-field perspective, we'll still always have this: