It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. At least that is how author Charles Dickens summed up 18th century England in “A Tale of Two Cities.” Today, that saying might apply to sports fans.
The NBA and NHL just concluded a very thrilling postseason and sports junkies now have to get their thrills from baseball. For many, that is the worst of times. But, for some, the focus on baseball is an acceptable substitute. And over the past few days, the Dodgers have made a case for fans to hope for the best.
The Dodgers have won four straight for the first time this season. They had last won three in a row the first week of the season, April 5-7. Okay, so a quartet of wins may not be much to crow about but the Dodgers have begun to look like the team most fans were expecting them to look like, even if the weaknesses that have plagued them all season still seem ready to come out of hiding.
Their starting pitching has been very good and their offense has been, well, good enough to get them by. Starting pitchers have given up just five runs runs in the wins. Andre Ethier has come to life and is batting .382 over his last 11 games. And then there is baseball’s newest superstar, outfielder Yasiel Puig.
Prior to Monday, Puig hit a lowly(?) .250, 4 for 16, and struck out six times in the Dodgers previous four game series at San Diego. When Puig kept “whiffing” on a steady diet of breaking balls down and away, even legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully didn’t understand why Puig didn’t adjust his stance and step a bit closer to the plate. Had teams finally figured this guy out? Nope.
In Monday’s 3-1 win over the Giants, Puig homered and drove in the go-ahead run with an 8th inning single. Puigs stats (.442 BA, 7 HR, 14 RBI) already has people talking All-Star game even though he has played in only 20 games.
So far, both the man scheduled to manage this year’s NL All-Stars, Giants manager Bruce Bochy, as well as Dodgers manager Don Mattingly have been said it is way too early to anoint Puig as an All-Star. Many Southern Californians disagree. They are quick to remind everyone the Angels Mike Trout made the team although he did not start get called up to the majors until 4/27 of last year. Yet there is one difference that worked in Trout’s favor and isn’t working for Puig.
The Angels were 6-14 when Trout was called-up. They went on a tear with him in the line-up and entered the All-Star break 10 games over .500 (48-38). Too bad Puig can’t lay claim to having the same effect – the Dodgers are just 11-10 with him in the line-up.
My hunch is if the Dodgers were winning, the Trout-Puig comparison would fall into place a bit easier. I also wonder if baseball’s “gotta have each team represented” isn’t another reason for keeping him off the roster. I can believe in some sort of underlying “moral” reason the rule is in effect. A player should not be overlooked if he happens to pay for a bad team. Forget morals though, the real reason for the rule is tied to viewership. God forbid someone in Miami decides not to watch the game because a Marlin isn’t on the team. Ironically, a few of those fans might tune in to see Puig more than anyone on the Marlins roster.
If there is a problem that seems to go away but then comes back, it is the bullpen. The Dodgers relief corp leads the league with 17 losses. Prior to Tuesday’s 6-5 win over the Giants, the bullpen appeared to have found a groove. In the previous three games, relief pitchers gave up just one run in the six innings they were called in for. But Tuesday night, the pathetic excuse for a closer, Brandon League, entered the game in the top of the ninth and the Dodgers comfortably ahead 6-3. League proceeded to give up three straight hits and suddenly the Dodgers were clinging to a one run lead.
With new closer Kenley Jansen having pitched in the last three games, the Dodgers were forced to call upon young lefthander Paco Rodriguez. But it seemed as though League never left. The Giants got yet another hit. Mercifully, Matt Kemp was back in center and caught the last two outs, the final one being an over-the-shoulder running catch to take away an extra base hit from the Giants Marco Scutaro. See Kemp’s catch here (about 20 seconds in).
So though it is only four games, we have finally seen the best the Dodgers can offer. And, unfortunately, the worst.
Excuses be gone?
Matt Kemp;s return to the roster didn’t come a moment too soon given his heroics Tuesday night. He missed the last 24 games with a bad hamstring. That means the Dodgers now have the offense they planned to start the season with. Carl Crawford is still out but Puig has filled in nicely. All this comes on the heels of Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti stating, per a tweet from ESPN, Mattingly’s job is safe for now.
Sounds like window dressing to me. I think if this team is still in the cellar at the All-Star break, no one’s job is safe, including Ned’s.