MLB: You Can’t Spell Dodgers Without the Dee

dee bunt

The Los Angeles Dodgers lineup is littered with stars, headlined by Cuban sensation Yasiel Puig, followed by the likes of Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier. At one time, or another, these guys have carried the load for their team at the big league level. The Dodgers also have Dee Gordon, the son of former MLB pitcher Tom “Flash” Gordon, who presents a skill-set that separates him from the stars he follows. The Dodgers lone question mark headed into this season was who would be the starting second baseman?

That question is no longer relevant. Gordon is the starting second baseman and it appears he’s not giving it up anytime soon. Granted, we’re only 13 games into the 2014 season but Gordon has become a prized asset in this lineup of high-profile names. Gonzalez hit a home run on Sunday for the fourth consecutive game, while Gordon became the sixth Dodger in franchise history to swipe four bases in a single game. (Last Dodger with four stolen bases in a single game was Rafael Furcal; 2007). Gordon was wreaking havoc on the base paths, at one point stealing second, and then he stole third a couple of pitches later without a throw.

His speed has never been put into question, though. The struggle of hitting major league pitching has held him back from utilizing his legs. Nonetheless, through the first two weeks of the new season, Gordon is looking like a legit big league hitter. He’s keeping the ball out of the air, working counts, drawing walks (4) and spraying the ball all over the diamond (16 hits). His .400/.457/.525 split is impressive from what we’ve ever previously seen from him, and goes along with his MLB leading nine stolen bases. Manager Don Mattingly has plugged Gordon into the eighth or leadoff spot in his lineup and looks like a genius thus far.

The 2014 Dodgers lineup would also make for a superb package of Topps baseball cards. However while Gordon would likely be the least valued out of that package, that hasn’t been the case on the diamond these days. The Dodgers need Gordon in the lineup, day in and day out. This could be an overreaction to his hot start, or not, but either way Gordon’s talent will be a key to the Dodgers success this season.

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

The Dodgers may be getting glimpse of real Luis Cruz

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Manager Don Mattingly figured 78 games was a big enough sample size to give Luis Cruz the third base job headed into the 2013 season, without looking at the bigger picture.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are struggling through the early stages of the 2013 season, as they currently sit at .500 (7-7) and in fourth place in the competitive National League West division.

All-Star Matt Kemp has been at the forefront of the teams’ early struggles, hitting just .185 with four RBIs, no home runs, and 17 strikeouts in 54 at-bats. It’s hard to imagine that Kemp stays in this slump for an extended period of time based off of his track record in the big leagues.

The real issue for the Dodgers could be with their everyday third baseman, Luis Cruz. Dodger fans fell in love with Cruz during the 2012 season, when he finally got the opportunity to play in Los Angeles, after numerous injuries occurred on the big league club. Cruz took full advantage of that rare opportunity and never looked back. He started 48 games at third base, 23 games at shortstop, two games at second base and played in 78 games overall.

In those 78 games, Cruz got 283 at bats and finished the season hitting .297 with six home runs, 34 RBIs and a .431 slugging percentage.

The bigger picture is that Cruz might not be an everyday player at the big league level, especially if you look back at his track record. The 29-year-old only had 56 major league games under his belt before last season, which should be a red flag right there. Most everyday players in the big leagues don’t usually play 10-plus years of minor league ball before earning that label.

Before last season, Cruz had just 154 major league at bats in his career and never got more than 70 at bats in a season.

Now, 36 at-bats into Cruz’s 2013 campaign, he is hitting just .103. This should be a concern for the Dodgers going forward because they’ve been playing musical chairs on the right side of the infield with Hanley Ramirez on the DL and Juan Uribe, Nick Punto and Jerry Hairston Jr. getting opportunities off of the bench.

Cruz’s track record doesn’t show the consistency of your ideal everyday player, so if he doesn’t come out of this slump than this might actually be who he really is. He has shown his pop to the left and right center gaps, while flashing the leather at multiple infield positions, so Cruz might not be consistent enough as an everyday player in the major leagues, but he could still be a valuable asset off of the Dodgers bench.

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.