“Other than that, how did you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln?”
I guess that old take-the-bad-with-the-good joke applies to the Dodgers of late. On one hand, both the pitching staff and the Dodgers offense are finally healthy, or so it seems. Pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu came off the disabled list Wednesday meaning the Dodgers finally have in place the five man rotation, Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Dan Haren, and a suddenly vibrant Josh Beckett, they envisioned this spring. The team has scored an average of more than 5 1/2 runs over their last nine games. Then there is the other hand.
The Dodgers are still only 10-11 in May, including losing 5 of 7 to division rivals San Francisco and Arizona. Third baseman Juan Uribe, who was batting .303, just went on the 15 day DL with a hamstring pull. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the Dodgers much-ballyhooed infield prospect, Alex Guerrero, who received the call up to “The Show” but another minor leaguer from Cuba, Erisbel Arruebarrena(can that name fit on the back of the uniform?). Unfortunately, Guerrero couldn’t be moved up from the Dodgers Triple-A affiliate in Albuquerque due to an ear injury. Say what?
It turns out that Guerrero was involved in a dugout “altercation” with catcher Miguel Olivo in which Olivo bit off a portion of Guerrero’s ear. You see, Olivo, 35, failed to throw out a batter who was stealing second base. He claimed the runner was safe due to second baseman Guerrero being slow to cover the bag. The two returned to the dugout and went at each other. The result was Guerrero needed to have a portion of his ear re-attached and Olivo was dumped from the team. Too bad; Guerrero was hitting .376 with 10 home runs while Arruebarrena was batting .208 in Double A.
So if the Dodgers intend on getting the ear of the rest of the NL, they need to take advantage of a very favorable schedule. The Dodgers are in the midst of 15 game stretch where they won’t face a team currently above .500. So far, the Dodgers have taken two of three against the wreck known as the Mets. Next up is a series with the struggling Phillies in Philly, then they host the Reds, who seem to miss Dusty Baker more than people thought they would, the here-yesterday-gone-today Pirates, and wrap up their “losers” run with an interleague match up against the up-and-down White Sox.
Another indicator of good things to come may be that Yasiel Puig was dominating the headlines for something other than pissing people off, that is until he had brain farts Thursday night. He ran into two double plays on fly balls in the Dodgers 5-3 loss. Still, the man is playing some solid baseball. Puig has batted .401 with 7 home runs since May 1st. He has reached base in 23 straight games and has a hit in 18 of the 19 games he’s played in this month. And to the surprise of some, he actually acknowledged his new found patience at the plate is partly because he’s listening to someone other than his ego.
“[Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez] is one of the guys who talks to me a lot about when you’re facing pitchers up here with the stuff they have here at the Major League level, it’s tough when you swing at balls out of the strike zone. So that’s one of the things I’ve been trying to work on and obviously the success I’ve had the last month or so hitting strikes has showed up in the numbers.
Of course, Puig’s bevy of cocky moves, bat-flipping after a home run being the most common, can still upset other teams. He had a confrontation with Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner after a home run back on the 10th. But Puig is sticking by the same story he did last year – this is the way he plays so deal with it.
“As far as what other people think, I try to play the game hard and I try to play the game happy. I don’t play it to offend people. But I do have a good time playing the game of baseball.”
In regards to the movie star-like fame Puig has experienced since exploding onto the scene a year ago, he simply says “The attention is there. I’m still not accustomed to it, but I know it’s part of the job. I know I have to do it. I try to respect everybody. I don’t know if it’s one of my favorite things, but it’s my responsibility. This is a game of entertainment.”
So even if the Dodgers can start a streak similar to their 42-8 run during the middle of last season, will excitement follow? After all, the team can still not be watched on TV by almost 70% of the local Los Angeles area.
Time Warner Cable, who currently owns the exclusive television rights, has yet to work out a deal with other satellite and/or cable providers to broadcast the games. That means if you go to a sports bar in Los Angeles that happens to have the MLB package, you can watch every team except the Dodgers. Even legendary announcer Vin Scully, who no longer travels with the team outside of the Western Time zone, can’t watch the games from his house.
Fans are starting to feel betrayed and could be losing interest in the team, even if the Dodgers currently lead the majors in attendance (averaging more than 46,000 tickets sold per game). Last season when the Dodgers were available on all broadcast providers, they averaged about 121,000 viewers per game. This year, the number is closer to 40,000. Meanwhile the audience for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who are still on basic cable, has gone from a 2013 average of about 30,000 viewers per game to over 85,000 this year. The NHL Kings are also stealing some thunder with their third straight appearance in the Western Conference finals.
The Dodgers time to take center stage has arrived. Or will they be shot down by lesser foes?
Related articles: Dodgers have faded from view on TV