As far as early-season issues go, the Los Angeles Dodgers are facing one that many other teams would love to have.
Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford. A combined eight All-Star games, four Gold Gloves, and four Silver Sluggers. Then there’s Yasiel Puig, one of the most polarizing figures in the sport. When he shows up to the stadium on time, he can be one of the most electrifying players in the game. His talent is unquestionable, his decision making not so much.
Unfortunately for the Dodgers, there is no DH in the National League. This means that these four starting-caliber players are all fighting for three outfield spots. Throw in opening day savior Scott Van Slyke and top prospect Joc Pederson, and the Dodgers have six outfielders that could be starters on most teams.
As is the current trend in Los Angeles sports, Puig hurt himself sliding into first base last Saturday against the San Francisco Giants. Injuries have kept the logjam in the outfield from being an issue, as has struggles against left-handed pitching. But the question should still be asked: what should head coach Don Mattingly do if, by some miracle, all four outfielders are healthy and producing?
Despite his occasional bone-headedness, Puig needs to play. Puig’s style of play ensures that there will be at least two jaw-dropping plays in every game. At times it’s a deep home run or an incredible throw from right field. Other times, it’s Puig missing a cutoff man or getting caught trying to stretch a single into a double. Either way, Puig changes the game. His presence in the lineup evokes fear in the opposing pitcher. His combination of speed and power allows him to hit anywhere from first through sixth in the lineup. No matter where it is in the order, Mattingly should have Puig’s name in the lineup as often as possible.
When healthy, Kemp should also be in the everyday lineup. Unfortunately, Kemp’s health has not been cooperative in recent years. He showed glimpses of his 2011 self on Sunday, when he crushed two home runs off Giants pitcher Matt Cain. Any questions about his shoulder were answered on his second homer, when he ripped an opposite field homer on an inside fastball. Kemp is one of the best players in baseball when healthy, and is seen as one of the leaders of the Dodgers.
The final position is dependent on three lefties; Crawford, Ethier, and Dee Gordon. Crawford was once one of the best players in baseball, hitting as high as .315 and stealing as many as 60 bases in a season with the Tampa Bay Rays. Ethier is a fan favorite and can provide more power and better defense than Crawford, whose arm is reminiscent of Juan Pierre’s in left.
The answer depends on the Dodgers second baseman. If Gordon can prove to get on base consistently, his presence at the top of the order makes Crawford’s skill set less important. If Gordon relapses and fails to get on base, Justin Turner may be the answer at second. Not having Gordon in the lineup makes Crawford more valuable than Ethier. Both Crawford and Ethier have their struggles against lefties, but their role in the everyday lineup should depend on the production at second base.
If Gordon regresses
If Gordon holds down second base