Yasiel Puig Could Save the Los Angeles Dodgers Season

Puig

The Los Angeles Dodgers had been long awaiting the arrival of one super-prospect, 22-year-old Cuban defector Yasiel Puig. The organization finally had no other choice but to call up Puig on Monday night against the San Diego Padres, with most of the team on the disabled list these days.

Whether this move should’ve happened sooner or not, the wait to see the phenom outfielder in a Dodger uniform was finally over.

Puig delivered a major league debut that’ll be talked about for years down the road, and it wasn’t because of his bat as most people would’ve expected, after he hit over .500 in spring training for the Dodgers. Despite going for 2-4 with two singles in his debut, the big right arm of Puig’s was getting all the attention after Monday night’s game.

The Dodgers had a 2-1 lead over the Padres in the top of the ninth inning, and then the “Cuban missile” known as Puig’s right arm happened. He gathered himself underneath a fly ball at the warning track to make out number two with a runner on first, after making the catch at the track he fired an absolute perfect strike to first and doubled up Padres outfielder Chris Denorfia, ballgame. (This walk-off double play was way cooler than most walk-off home runs I’ve seen this season).

What would Puig do for an encore on Tuesday night?

He only went 3-4 with two home runs, five RBIs, two runs, while leading the Dodgers to a 9-7 win over the Padres.

The Dodgers have found the answer they’ve been looking for, and the National League West is still in definite striking distance with plenty of baseball left to play. Last season, remember when the “Anaheim” Angels started 6-14 and then called up the eventual 2012 AL Rookie of the Year Mike Trout? Everything instantly turned around for the Angels. Trout’s impact alone lifted the Angels back into playoff contention for the rest of the season, only to come up short in the competitive American League West.

It’s not a stretch to say Puig could have that same impact on this Dodgers team, bringing almost the same dynamic style of play to the diamond as Trout. He probably won’t have the year Trout had last season, but that’s tough for anyone to accomplish. However, not one team is running away with the NL West anytime soon, so Puig’s impact could put the Dodgers right back into the division race in just a couple of weeks.

Puig and company look like they’ll be able to hold down the fort until Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, and AJ Ellis return from the DL, which would give the Dodgers time to discuss possibly trading Andre Ethier to make Puig the everyday right fielder in Los Angeles.

Manager Don Mattingly has found the missing piece to the puzzle in Puig, and once the rest of his players get healthy he’ll finally get to piece this whole thing together. The Dodgers might have called up Puig just in time and his impact could take this team in the direction they’ve been destined for all season.

Don Mattingly Sends Forceful Message

Donnie

Rumors have surfaced over the past week about Don Mattingly’s job security as the Los Angeles Dodgers manager, with the boys in blue currently 7.0 games back in the National League West and in last place almost two months into the season.

New ownership and its $200 million payroll that features a star-studded lineup put “World Series or Bust” type expectations on this ball club from the start. Injuries, poor execution and just flat-out bad baseball have gotten the Dodgers to this point of desperation.

Mattingly showed a sense of urgency before Wednesday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers, with a rare lineup change. It’s nothing new to see Andre Ethier get an occasional day off with a left-hander on the mound, but Ethier wasn’t penciled into Wednesday’s lineup with a right-hander on the hill for Milwaukee. Initial thoughts were that maybe Ethier was being bothered by some sort of injury, however, that wasn’t the case.

Mattingly didn’t hold back anything about his decision to sit Ethier when meeting with reporters during pregame.

“I’m putting out my lineup that I feel is going to be most competitive and going to compete the hardest” Mattingly said.

That’s about as clear as a message as you’re going to get from a manager. The recent rumors about Mattingly have clearly been taken personal. He knows that his job isn’t safe if the losing continues, so if he feels someone isn’t giving it a 100 percent than all power to him for putting his foot down.

Ethier is hitting just .264 with four home runs and 15 RBIs this season. He isn’t the only Dodger struggling, though. Matt Kemp is hitting .265 with two home runs and 16 RBIs, but Mattingly obviously doesn’t see any issue with his effort.

The job of a manager is to get the best out of his players and this message was an indication that he wasn’t getting that. This could be just another managerial tactic that we’ve seen before, where a player gets a wakeup call from his manager, but who knows. What we do know is that if Mattingly ends up losing his job he’ll make sure that his players on the field are fighting for him till the very last out.

Follow Michael Stephenson on Twitter

Andre Ethier Finding His Way against Lefties

ethier

The reoccurring issue with Andre Ethier over the past few seasons has been his inability to hit left-handed pitching. It’s an issue that has put the Dodgers in frustrating situations when opposing teams happily bring in a left-hander out of the bullpen to put away Ethier in key moments late in a game.

Over the past three seasons, Ethier is hitting just .225 against lefties, with a .276 on base percentage and a .324 slugging percentage.

Those aren’t the type of numbers that the Dodgers have in my mind for their starting right fielder, who is due $13 million dollars this season.

The Dodgers are just four games into the 2013 season, but Ethier’s early success against lefties has been a bright spot so far.

It started on Tuesday night, when San Francisco Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner was shutting down the Dodgers offense at a rapid pace for eight shutout innings.

The Dodgers came out of the 3-0 loss with just two hits off of Bumgarner. However, Ethier had one of those two hits, when he doubled in the bottom of the second off of the 23-year-old. He ended up striking out in his last two at bats against the lefty, but that double down the right field line was a good sign.

On the very next night, Ethier continued to show signs of improvement.

The Giants decided to bring their lefty specialist Javier Lopez into the game to face Adrian Gonzalez in bottom of the sixth, and a strikeout was the end result. Lopez’s night would usually be over after that, but manager Bruce Bochy kept his guy in the game, daring Ethier to get a hit against the lefty specialist.

Once again, Ethier roped a double down the right field line, forcing Bochy to use another arm out of his bullpen.

Last night, Ethier was at it again.

Jonathan Sanchez of the Pirates was on the mound, and it didn’t take Ethier long to keep this early success against lefties going.

In the bottom of the second, Ethier sent a high fastball by Sanchez into the right field pavilion for a solo home run and his first long ball of the 2013 season.

The Dodgers need Ethier in the lineup every day and if he can hit left-handed pitching consistently that’s where he’ll be.

All of the talk of minor league super-prospect Yasiel Puig getting his shot this season with the Dodgers relies on Ethier’s ability to hit left-handers, and right now he’s getting the job done. It’s a pretty small sample size to get excited about, but this early success could be a sign of good things to come.

Follow Michael Stephenson on Twitter

Unexpected Start


The 2012 Dodgers season is off to a shocking 9-1 start, best since the 1981 World Series Champion Dodgers. I’m not crazy; I know it’s only been 10 games into this 162 game season, but no one expected this kind of start. The Dodgers are playing with no pressure on them right now, if you look at any baseball magazine predictions, they were picked to finished in 3rd place or below in just about all of them. It’s a lot easier to play when you don’t have the pressure of the Angels, Yankees, or Red Sox which is to win the World Series RIGHT NOW. The Dodgers have only played the San Diego Padres and Pittsburg Pirates which aren’t your best big league competition, but the Dodgers have been playing at a level that could last awhile
The Dodgers had a 6 game home stand last week after taking their first 3 out of 4 games against the Padres at Petco Park. The Pirates were the first team to come to Dodger Stadium this year, but left with a bad taste in their mouth after being swept in the 3 game series. Clayton Kershaw pitched the home opener against Pittsburg, finishing with 7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 7 SO. Those are your typical Kershaw numbers. The Dodgers went on to win that game 2-1 thanks to an 8th inning go ahead homer by Andre Ethier, is “Captain Clutch” back? The Padres were the next team to come to Dodger Stadium over the weekend for a 3 game series, which is always a good time. On Friday night Aaron Harang took the mound for the Dodgers, who lost his first start to the Padres on the previous Sunday. Harang started the game with 9 consecutive strikeouts! That is a new Los Angeles Dodgers record, and probably the most unexpected thing we will see all year. It was a wild game with the Dodgers winning 9-8 on a walk off walk in the 9th, by no other than Andre Ethier. This series also ended in a 3 game sweep, with Matt Kemp hitting home runs in all 3 games and 4 overall for the series, and now Kobe Bryant isn’t the only one getting MVP chants in Los Angeles anymore.
I’m not saying this 9-1 start means that the Dodgers will win the World Series this year, but I’m also not saying that they won’t win it. Everything is going right for this team right now, although the bullpen could use a little bit of help. Dee Gordon has been stealing bases as often as the Kardashians are on TV, Matt Kemp is playing like he is worth $260 million, Andre Ethier is playing like he actually wants to play, and after Kershaw the starting pitching has been better than expected. Even Mark Ellis, AJ Ellis, and Juan Rivera are doing their part, and James Loney and Juan Uribe are starting to HIT!! That actually probably deserves more than two exclamation points, I’m almost happier than when I got my first car. The Dodgers start should be credited to the great baseball they’ve been playing, but also to all of the baseball magazines that counted this team out before the season started.

The 1-2 Punch

In the game of baseball it’s a valuable weapon to have a 1-2 punch in your lineup or on your pitching staff. If you look at the teams that are constantly in contention for a World Series, they have this weapon. The Philadelphia Phillies have both, with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley in their lineup, except this year due to injuries. When it comes to their pitching they really have a 1-2-3 punch with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels. This is why they’re in the hunt, every single year. In the American League you have 1-2 punches in lineups everywhere like Miguel Cabrera/Prince Fielder in Detroit, Alex Rodriguez/Mark Teixeira in New York, Adrian Gonzalez/David Ortiz in Boston, and Josh Hamilton/Adrian Beltre in Texas. As long as these teams can have a productive 1-2 punch, they will always be in contention. A 1-2 punch in your pitching staff with a lack of offense can even take you a long way in the MLB, just look at the 2010 San Francisco Giants.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, who are being overlooked by everyone, might have both weapons this season. They already have Matt Kemp who is coming off of what should have been an MVP season, and Clayton Kershaw who won the NL CY Young award last year. So who will be the two players to complete the Dodgers 1-2 punch? In the Dodgers lineup look for Andre Ethier to be the guy to fill that spot. In last night’s game against the San Diego Padres he went 2-4 with 4 RBIs, against left hander Cory Luebke. I mentioned that it was off of a lefty because that will be the big test for him this year, can he hit left-handed pitching? It was just one game, but for me that question was answered last night when he tripled off the wall. When the Dodgers went to back to back NLCS appearances in 2008 and 2009, they had one of the deadliest 1-2 punches in baseball with Andre Ethier and Manny Ramirez. So if Ethier can get back to his All Star form and hit left-handed pitching consistently, a Matt Kemp/Andre Ethier 1-2 punch could take this team a long way.

The pitcher that needs to step up and complete the Dodgers pitching 1-2 punch will be Chad Billingsley. He has the stuff to be a dominate pitcher in this league, but the consistency hasn’t been there for him. He once won 16 games in 2008 and was named a National League All Star in 2009. The All Star Chad Billingsley made an appearance last night against the San Diego Padres when he went 8 1/3 innings with 11 K’s, 1 BB, 0 R, and 4 H. Now I know with his consistency he could do the complete opposite in his next start, but let’s be optimistic. If he can pitch anything close to those numbers consistently, the Dodgers will have a dominate 1-2 punch. We already know what Kershaw can do; he threw 3 innings of shutout ball with the flu on Thursday afternoon! So if the All Star Chad Billingsley decides to show up on a consistent basis this year, the Dodgers will have their pitching 1-2 punch. The key word here is CONSISTENT, if Ethier and Billingsley can be that, and Kemp and Kershaw do anything remotely close to last season, the Dodgers 1-2 punches could take them deep into October.