NLDS Game 1: Yasiel Puig Hits Fifth

puig_2013-06-27_faceWe’ll do a more regular lineups post closer to game time, but the Dodger nine is out, and it’s got this interesting tidbit: as Kevin Kennedy alluded to yesterday, Yasiel Puig hits fifth, while Mark Ellis hits second.

It’s a bit odd because Puig has hit first or second, with brief trips to cleanup, for the last month. He hit fifth once, on August 25 against Boston, and went 0-3. This apparently has to do with getting more thump in the middle of the lineup without Matt Kemp or Andre Ethier available, which makes sense on some level, but I’m not sure I’m buying it when the result is then that Ellis (.247/.318/.286 in September, .265/.319/.325 against right-handed pitching) gets more plate appearances. Besides, we all remember how much Puig likes running behind Adrian Gonzalez, right?

Fortunately, we know that lineup construction doesn’t really matter as much as we like to think it does. Kris Medlen has very little track record against most Dodgers, anyway, so there’s not a lot of past to go on.

Is it game time yet?

So This Is A Yasiel Puig Slump

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As we continue to wait for the tiebreaker and wild card games to finish up so that the NLDS can finally get started tomorrow night, stories beyond “hey, will Andre Ethier play?” need to fill the gap. From both sides of the aisle, I can already see one narrative coming that probably won’t get any quieter over the next few days — it’s the story that Yasiel Puig is slumping miserably:

The facts, as both writers have them, are accurate, and I don’t mean to suggest otherwise. Puig hit just .214 in September, and there’s no getting around that, and not really even any complaining that these stories get written. You look at “.195 batting average over the last 28 days” and you write that up as a relevant fact, because it is. 

So while I don’t really have an issue with these stories existing, I do feel it’s appropriate to add some necessary context here, because there’s a whole lot more to life than batting average. Fortunately, Chad Moriyama did just that a few days ago:

Specifically, I made the point a while ago about his increasing month-by-month pitch per plate appearance totals, and September marked another improvement, as he took 3.77 P/PA.

More importantly though, Puig is arguably having his second-best month in the majors in terms of peripherals. He has posted a 10.1% walk rate and 22.2% strikeout rate with a .238 ISO. Furthermore, his line is .214/.333/.452/.786 primarily because of a .214 BABIP. Hey, he wasn’t going to have had a .430 BABIP forever.

So that’s a pretty good sign, and so is the fact that his six September homers were second only to his seven in June. We’ve also seen him come back from a slump before, because his July OPS (.789) was just about the same as it was in September (.786), and we all saw him come back to bash in August (.920).

Or, put another way — Puig’s September wOBA was .349, and this is causing concern as a slump. By comparison, that wOBA is still better than what guys like Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, Jay Bruce, Starling Marte, and Alfonso Soriano were able to manage this year.

Obviously, wOBA isn’t really a mainstream stat, and it’s difficult for most to overlook a poor batting average — and the honest truth is that if Puig doesn’t drive in runs over the next few days and the Dodgers lose, no one will care what his wOBA or wRC+ or WAR is. But while it’s okay to acknowledge that his September was not one of his better months (which I did in the upcoming NLDS preview that should go up today at ESPN), it’s important not to confuse that with “he’s awful now,” because it’s not the same.

Besides, I’m not sure why we’re caring about Puig’s offensive stats anyway. He could hit .900 with 14 homers in this series, but if he dares miss a cutoff man or pimp a dinger or in some way offend Brian McCann‘s delicate sensibilities, that’s going to be the only story you’ll hear about.

Dodgers 4, Padres 0: Puig Smash

We should probably talk about Clayton Kershaw‘s 10 strikeouts over seven shutout innings, not only dropping his ERA down to 1.88 and virtually guaranteeing him the Cy Young award, but doing a whole lot to restore our confidence headed into the playoffs after a few less-than-usual outings. Or maybe A.J. Ellis‘ fourth-inning homer, providing all the runs the Dodgers would really need.

But really, who are we kidding? This is what we’re talking about, because, wow:

That blast from Yasiel Puig was the second-longest in Petco Park history — behind only an Adrian Gonzalez bomb in 2009 that went one foot further — and Tim Stauffer, I hope you know that was nothing personal, because, good lord. That’s the kind of ball that ends up on Puig’s Hall of Fame reel when he gets inducted in 2037.

Even Padres beat writers were floored:

You know what, when you do that, you can flip the bat all you damn want.

And of course Ronald Belisario actually managed a strikeout for once, and Brian Wilson closed it out in a non-save situation, and the 89th win of the year allowed the Dodgers to keep pace with the Cardinals (who beat Milwaukee) and gain a game on the Braves (who lost to the Cubs), and that’s all wonderful and good. But mainly: PUIG.

Dodger Stadium to Be the Bat Flip Center of the Universe This Weekend

When the Dodgers welcome the Rays to town tonight, they’ll be entertaining a team that they have a lot in common with. They’ve both been unbelievably red-hot over the last two months, they both have Cy Young lefty aces atop their rotations, they both have employed J.P. Howell and James Loney in the last year, and they both have rookie sensations in right field, arguably the two future Rookies of the Year in the respective leagues, who are helping to fuel the recent run.

But destroying baseballs is hardly the only thing that Wil Myers and Yasiel Puig have in common, is it? They also love to watch said destroyed baseballs. Let’s judge!

Here’s Myers on July 29 in Yankee Stadium…

…and again last Sunday back home (h/t to Rays Index):

That second one is just amazing. Yes. That’s a thing I did. Challenge me, Guillermo Moscoso, I would say, if I had any idea who the poor mortal delivering me this baseball even is. I am embarrassed for you. Your children will now carry the name “Myers”. Remove yourself from my sight.

What’s that? Too recent? Well, that’s why we also have footage of Myers’ first homer in the Rays organization from this April (click to play, not embeddable):

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Now I hardly need to spend the bandwidth to show you the approximately 28 times that Puig has flipped his bat, but I can’t really get through this post without doing it at all, so here — via FanGraphs — is Puig tossing the lumber against Sergio Romo on July 7. Why this one? Because it was merely for a single.

You’ll have noticed, at this point, that Myers does a whole lot of the same things that Puig does, yet doesn’t seem to get 10% of the disdain. I think we all know why, and it’s because Myers is whi… ttling away his time in the relative baseball obscurity of Tampa Bay, as opposed to the bright lights of Los Angeles. It’s because Puig isn’t from this co… mmunity of ballplayers who “know how to play the game the right way”.

Anyway, you know that I don’t really care about bat flips, for the most part. The game is supposed to be fun, and I’ve always subscribed to the theory of “if you don’t want me to flip a bat after I crush a homer, maybe throw a better pitch next time.” I do recognize that there are real-world downsides to it, however, in the sense that an unhappy pitcher might throw at your head or a crusty umpire may stop giving you favorable calls. Myers does it, Puig does it, I don’t really care.

Besides, neither Myers nor Puig can hold a candle to what I still consider to be the greatest bat flip of all time — with apologies to Hung-Chih Kuo and also the ludicrous Korean example Chad Moriyama dug out today — Cubs minor leaguer Dan Vogelbach doing this last month. (Via FanGraphs.)

Good lord, that’s a bat flip. Give the man an extra run just for that (and oh please, please, let that have been a no-doubt homer).

Dodgers 3, Cubs 0: Yasiel Puig is Just Everything

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We should probably talk about Chris Capuano showing his good side, taking a shutout into the seventh inning, or Brandon League getting two outs on four pitches, or that Carl Crawford actually had three hits and drove in two of the three Dodger runs. We should, but Yasiel Puig exists and can’t go more than four-and-a-half seconds without doing something just unbelievable, so here we are.

Here’s how insane Puig’s day was — he tried to bunt in each of his first two plate appearances, which is really all but unforgivable, and that’s not even what we’re going to be focusing on. Puig didn’t get the bunt down his first time up and he eventually managed an infield single to deep short; the second time, he did, and easily beat out the throw because he’s the fastest man on earth.

That’s how he ended up first base in the third inning when Andre Ethier singled to right, allowing Puig to blow past second and right to third base, then strike the total “DEAL WITH IT” pose you see above when the ball got away. Puig ended up scoring the game’s first run on a Jerry Hairston single, but he was only getting started.

In the bottom of the same inning, Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija popped a ball down the right field line, and there’s absolutely no way to describe this with words so let’s just go with “Puig bouncing a ball off the wall back to himself dot gif backslash WHAT point WOW”:

Since the ball bounced off the wall, it was ruled a foul ball, and Samardzija ended up popping out. Still, that’s about an 80 on the “focus” scale and is the kind of thing that ought to be played on highlight reels during rain delays until the end of time — just like the infamous “Tommy Lasorda getting nailed by a bat” thing we’ve all seen a million times.

Piuig then struck out in the bottom of the fourth with the bases loaded — see, it’s not all good — and then walked (!) in the bottom of the sixth. Yet he still wasn’t done, because in the seventh, Starlin Castro came up, lined a ball to right field, and…

…yet another amazing defensive play, though a pretty ugly one when you see how hard his face hits the ground and the angle at which his left wrist and/or thumb turns following the catch. Puig stayed in to finish the inning, then was replaced in right by Skip Schumaker.

After all of that, the afternoon actually turned into a game when Ronald Belisario & Paco Rodriguez combined to load the bases with two outs in the eighth, though Rodriguez managed to get out of it when Wellington Castillo helped him out a bit by striking out on ball four. Kenley Jansen got through the ninth without issue, but of course we’re all primarily waiting to hear word on Puig’s condition.

That’s now 30 wins in 37 games, and 13 straight road victories for the Dodgers, setting a new franchise record. They still haven’t lost on the road since July 6, and they’re now 11 games over .500.

You’d think winning every day would be boring, but: nope! Especially not with Puig around doing the things he does. We’re seeing all sorts of things we’ve never seen before, friends.