Dodgers 6, Cubs 2: Never Stop Winning

ryu_2013-08-02Here’s a list of things Yasiel Puig did today:

- run-scoring single in the first
- walk (!) in the third, later scoring
- hit by Michael Bowden in the fourth
- made absurd throw from right field to third that would have had Junior Lake had Juan Uribe applied the tag (which he arguably, but not clearly, did)
- beat out infield single in the sixth (with some help from the ball hitting second base)
- struck out to end the top of the eighth
- made diving catch to end the bottom of the eighth

Yeah, there’s an argument to be made that game recaps should be more than simple, lazy lists. But when you’ve got Puig running around the field doing pretty much everything, what more can you say other than that his July swoon appears to be in the past?

Really, you wouldn’t think that a game that had all that from Puig, eight runs, and two ejections could be tedious, but after the Dodgers pushed across the final run of the game on a Nick Punto sacrifice fly in the top of the fifth inning, this thing started to drag, well past three hours. 

Fortunately, all of the action came up front and mainly went the way of the Dodgers, other than the part where Don Mattingly and Mark Ellis each got ejected in the fourth inning for arguing with plate umpire Alan Porter. As we worried, Hyun-jin Ryu was only so-so on the road, giving up 11 hits in 5.1 innings, though he at least managed to avoid serious damage by walking zero and letting just two come home. On the day, the Cubs put up 14 hits, yet still managed to bring in just the two.

Brandon League pitched a scoreless seventh on just nine pitches, and if you haven’t noticed that he’s now strung together six consecutive scoreless outings, it’s time to. Let’s not overstate this, because he still isn’t missing bats, but if he’s at least a usable middle reliever as opposed to a “break glass in case of emergency” disaster, that’s valuable.

Speaking of “break glass in case of emergency,” Carlos Marmol! Pitching for the first time in over a week, he allowed a double to Julio Borbon (later picked off by A.J. Ellis) and a walk to David DeJesus, but managed to become the only Dodger pitcher to retire Junior Lake and help avoid the inevitable overuse of Kenley Jansen. I wasn’t against the idea of Marmol at the time, but he hasn’t exactly shown a lot in three outings as a Dodgers; I suppose it’s a little unfair of us to expect anything different when they never use him, yet you have to think he’s not going to last all that long.

With the win, the Dodgers push that road victory streak to 12, tying the franchise record set by the 1924 Brooklyn Robins. They haven’t lost away from home since July 6, and they didn’t even need Ramirez or a great starting outing to do it. It’s good to be the kings, right?

Dodgers 1, Reds 0: PUIG.

celebrate_2013-07-28

Yasiel Puig stepped to the plate five times today, and for the first four, it wasn’t going all that well. He made contact exactly zero times (excluding fouls), and the one time of those four he didn’t strike out, he was picked off of first base.

Most other days, that’s your day. You get your chances, you either make the best of them or you don’t, and had the Dodgers lost this game 1-0, as briefly seemed likely, you bet we’d have been talking about Puig’s ongoing baserunning issues.

Well, today’s not most other days, is it? Today’s the day where the Dodgers set more than one record Chris Capuano was inexplicably awesome, Brandon League was even more inexplicably awesome, and Puig sends the crowd home happy with his first career walk-off, a homer off someone named Curtis Partch, and then slides into home after a lovely bat flip. Isn’t baseball just great sometimes?

I have to pause here to thank Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker for his role in this win, because I don’t use the well-worn “someone named” trope here lightly. I had literally no idea who Partch even was before today (or so I thought at the time; it turns out he gave up a grand slam to Matt Holliday in his major league debut earlier this year), and that’s because he was a 26th round draft pick in his tenth major league game. Why is this relevant? Because Baker, ever so predictable and crusty Baker, was holding back the dominant Aroldis Chapman for a save. You know, the save situation that would never come because you let Curtis F’in Partch lose the game. Thanks Dusty!

What shouldn’t be lost here is that Capuano was outstanding, though aided somewhat (as was Cincinnati’s Tony Cingrani) by a generous strike zone. Capuano went 6.2 innings, striking out four while allowing just three runners, and until the Puig business, this post was going to be about how Jekyll and Hyde Capuano has been — he’s either been really, really good, or really, really awful. I’m not sure if today’s outing impacts any plans the team has around adding a starter before the deadline, but it certainly can’t hurt.

We actually have to acknowledge League as well, who somehow has three of the last five Dodger wins. (Wins!) League went two scoreless and has allowed just a single run in his last 8.2 innings pitched, and while I’m not ready to say he’s “back” or that he should ever be closing ahead of Kenley Jansen again, if he’s at least going to be decent, that’s a pretty nice boost to a bullpen that had a hole or two.

All of this excellent pitching was needed since the offense struck out an incredible twenty times, setting a franchise record. But they’ve also now won 26 of their last 32, tying a Los Angeles record, and pushing them to 2.5 games ahead of Arizona, who lost to San Diego today.

Oh, and after a day off tomorrow, Clayton Kershaw & Zack Greinke are set to welcome the Yankees into town. The national spotlight will be at Dodger Stadium. So will the hottest team in baseball. This just never stops being fun, does it?

Here’s Yasiel Puig Trying to Run to First Base Last Night

You may have noticed Yasiel Puig putting just about zero effort into trying to beat out a weak grounder off Juan Nicasio last night, and I imagine at the time many fans were shocked at what appeared to be the utter indifference on his part. Obviously, this doesn’t look great:

But of course there’s more to it than that, and as Vin Scully was careful to point out, Puig is still suffering from a sore left hip that’s bothered him ever since he ran into the right field wall in Colorado on July 3. Puig left last night’s game after just two plate appearances, the second day in a row he couldn’t complete nine, and it’s difficult to look at the “before” and “after” stat line around that incident and not think there’s a connection.

June 3 – July 3: 116 PA, .440/.466/.743, 8 home runs
July 4 – July 12: 42 PA .256/.310/.282, 0 home runs

Obviously we can’t assume that’s 100% related to the hip — we know that he was never, ever going to hit .440 all season long, and it’s clear teams have figured out his propensity to swing at terrible outside breaking pitches, so some regression was inevitable here — but the before and after lines there really show a stark comparison.

Of course, with Matt Kemp sidelined, Carl Crawford aching, and the chance to pull closer to first place by the break so tempting, I can’t really blame Don Mattingly for not finding the idea of an outfield populated by two of Jerry Hairston, Skip Schumaker, & Scott Van Slyke around Andre Ethier very appealing. But I point this out mainly because it’s the approximately 623,917th example of a player trying to be a hero and playing through pain that probably isn’t going to end well. Even if Puig doesn’t further injure himself — and hip injuries are a tricky thing — he’s not really helping the team on the field all that much right now. He’ll never say he doesn’t want to play, and so it’s on management to protect him from himself.

We’re no doctors, of course, so it’s not on us to say what the condition of his hip truly is. But I know that if he were to get the weekend off ahead of a four-day break before the Dodgers pick up the second half on Friday in Washington, I wouldn’t be unhappy with that at all.

So Everyone Hates Yasiel Puig Now

puig_2013-06-27_faceIf it seems like the the recent Yasiel Puig ridiculousness just keeps on swirling, well, it does. (Almost like a tornado full of sharks, really.) All of a sudden his public perception has gone from “fun breakout story of the year” to “mecha-Hitler multiplied by a thousand Barry Bonds,” but it’s difficult to identify exactly why, because it’s not like anything much has changed about him in the last week. I think Deadspin, of all places, put it best yesterday:

What the hell? Was there a meeting where everyone decided to treat Yasiel Puig like the new Allen Iverson?

So what’s causing all this?

Because he’s the brash new star on a big-market team that’s now probably the most hated club in baseball.

When I was suggesting the Dodgers might look into Chase Utley earlier this week, I paused in the middle to point out that I was fully aware that the Dodgers are now the bad guys. Sure, it was fun for fans of every other team to kick them while they were down — “$200 million for last place!” — but now that they’re steamrolling the National League, in no small part due to a massively endless payroll that allowed them to add guys like Puig, Hanley Ramirez, Zack Greinke, & Hyun-jin Ryu, they’re Public Enemy Number One. (And not the good kind.) We’ve heard “the Dodgers are the new Yankees” so often that it’s become trite, but, well, it’s kind of true.

So when you’re the most hated team in baseball, the best and most visible players on that team are naturally going to take the brunt of the aggravation and jealousy from fans of every other team that can’t compete. Except no one can really hate Clayton Kershaw, who is both the best pitcher in baseball and a wonderful human being. And it’s no fun for fans of other teams to hate on Matt Kemp, because he’s spent the last year being injured and ineffective.

All of that rage has to land somewhere, and the fact that this obscenely wealthy team suddenly gets to add an out-of-nowhere star who is playing like the best player on the planet seems like the pretty obvious target, fairly or not. If you hate the Dodgers, as many now do, and you can’t bring yourself to hate Kemp or Kershaw or care about Andre Ethier or Zack Greinke, Puig is the obvious target.

Because baseball players can be as petty as high school sophomores.

Let’s look at what Miguel Montero was actually complaining about, shall we?

Then on Tuesday, Puig was thrown out easily at the plate in the fifth inning but not before he collided with Montero and then stared down the catcher as he walked back to the dugout. Replays showed Montero waving his finger at the rookie, a la former NBA big man Dikembe Mutombo.

“I don’t blame him running me over, it’s part of the game,” Montero said. “The only thing I really don’t appreciate is why you have to look back at me. I really don’t appreciate that.”

Continuing on, Montero referenced a play last September in Los Angeles when former Dodgers outfielder Shane Victorino bowled into the catcher at home, but then walked away without incident.

“Victorino crushed me,” Montero said. “But I never said anything to him and he never said anything to me. That’s what the game is made of.”

I… well, hang on a second. Who looks worse here? Imagine if Puig had waved his finger at Montero? The benches would have emptied immediately, and for good reason. Montero is the same man who publicly bashed his own rookie pitcher, Trevor Bauer, last year, don’t forget. It becomes apparent that in his world, there’s only two ways to do things: the Montero way, and the wrong way. (I would have also accepted “the Max Power way,” which is the wrong way, but faster.)

Later in that story was this tidbit from Arizona starter Ian Kennedy:

“He plays with a lot of arrogance,” Kennedy said.

You may remember Kennedy as the same man who hit Puig in the face with a pitch on June 12, just nine days after Puig debuted, and then set off a massive brawl later in the game by going after Zack Greinke’s head with the first pitch. Puig lost control, going hard after Eric Hinske (though somehow avoiding a suspension for it), and that’s of course inexcusable if somewhat understandable. But considering those words are coming from Kennedy… well, you don’t need me to make the “pot” and “kettle” jokes, I imagine.

More recently, there was the story about Puig apparently “disrespecting” Luis Gonzalez that got everything kick-started this week. That would be a disappointing story if it was in any way accurate, which it almost certainly is not, as David Vassegh went into in great detail about in a series of tweets and which Puig himself confirmed. I don’t buy into the whole “the media is making up lies” point of view here, but I do think that one Arizona-friendly reporter took an unverified, unwitnessed report from an unhappy Diamondback hero and ran with it.

Gonzalez then went on the radio and whined about the perceived snub, and again I’m wondering which side is truly showing the lack of class here. I think we all remember the stories about Gonzalez’ treatment of Matt Kemp when he played in Los Angeles, and this really sounds like a case of a retired ballplayer being just a bit upset that a player who had almost certainly never heard of him not sufficiently kissing the ring. That’s especially absurd when you think about the likelihood that a guy from an oppressed, closed-off island would really have known about the star of a World Series from 12 years ago, when he was 10. Hell, would you even know Gonzalez if he walked into your office right now?

In the end, this goes back to the great “unwritten rules” of baseball. You’re supposed to do things a certain way, dammit, like they did back when I was a kid, and I can’t tell you what those things are, you’re just supposed to know, dagnabbit. “Playing with arrogance,” or whatever he’s being accused of, is ultimately irrelevant, at least in the face of those who have “been there before” and have reached the exact amount of service time, whatever that is, that they can mete out baseball justice.

Because he’s reaching Bieber / Kardashian levels of overexposure.

This one, I’ll grant, is probably completely accurate. Unless you’re a 14-year-old girl, you probably hate Justin Bieber; unless you’re the kind of person who spends months at a time following celebrity court cases, you probably hate Kim Kardashian. Of course you do, really, because they’re everywhere. It’s inevitable that after non-stop wall-to-wall saturation, people are going to have enough and start to push back. (Although if this is part of it, it certainly seems to have happened at a lightning-fast pace.) While Puig is at least talented in a way that Kardashian absolutely is not, even I’ve been sick of hearing about him eight million times a day — at no time moreso than this week, when the “Final Vote” begging for votes became so obnoxious that it was unavoidable.

Because our great country can be really, really stupid sometimes.

I’d like to think this isn’t something that needs to be mentioned, but sadly, it does. When you read the comments on some of these stories… well, let’s just say the word “foreigner” or terms like it comes up more than a few times, as though being from somewhere else and playing a different style of ball makes Puig any less deserving of being paid for his talents. Let’s just say that you hear players like Nick Punto & Skip Schumaker being called “gritty” or “gamers” who “play the game the right way,” but no one uses descriptions like that for Hanley Ramirez or Carl Crawford, do they?

It’s an ugly truth, but it still exists. Hell, just look at this Deadspin story from yesterday about the awful treatment being suffered by a rookie lineman for the New York Jets just because he happens to be a Palestinian Muslim. We don’t have any evidence of Puig being treated poorly because his heritage or his color, and I do believe we’ve come far enough that no one is going to be shouting epithets at him like they did to Jackie Robinson. But all too often, even subconsciously and often unintentionally, “playing the game the right way” means “the American way,” not the wild, over-the-top way that has Puig running at 140% all the time, swinging at everything, and making stupid outs on the bases.

By the way, without delving too deep into politics here, I would just absolutely love to know how many Dodger fans are cheering on Puig’s nightly feats and buying his jerseys before going home and angrily declaring that “America is for Americans” in their daily lives without even realizing the irony there. I’ll say this — I don’t think it’s entirely a coincidence that this all seemed to swirl in Arizona. Frankly, if you’re surprised that a young Cuban player who was a floating refugee barely more than a year ago plays slightly differently than the typical American player, then you should open your eyes.

Because he doesn’t like to talk to the media.

Much has been made of the fact that Puig doesn’t like to talk to the media, and it’s here that I wonder who’s more upset about that. Not that he shouldn’t treat media members with respect, because he should, but I imagine that the media member who can’t get a good quote out of him cares a whole lot more than the average fan. Does John Q. Public from Long Beach care that Ken Gurnick (sorry, Ken!) couldn’t get some face time? I imagine the answer to that is “probably not”.

Unfortunately, and something that he’ll need to learn, is that the media goes a long way towards shaping your image. That’s how you get the Arizona reporter going with a poorly-sourced and probably untrue Gonzalez story. That’s how you end up with Bill Plaschke, in a what is otherwise a positive look at Puig, saying that he pulled a “rather villainous move” — his words! — by calling off Ethier on a ball in the gap the other night. (As though Puig colliding with Ethier while going full speed and failing to call him off hasn’t already cost Ethier playing time this season.)

That might be the reason that Pedro Gomez is reporting with a straight face that Puig tried to use his interpreter to pick up girls. I can’t say for sure, but I’m trying to figure out any other reason how that’s either relevant or in any way negative. BREAKING NEWS: 22-year-old athlete likes women and wants to meet some, and may have asked for help speaking their language. Won’t somebody please think of the children?

Because he might actually just be everything bad that everyone says he is.

I’m a Dodger fan, and so I’m probably biased on this. Fine. I imagine if Puig was a Giant or a Cub or a National, we’d probably all be bagging on him here a lot more than we are. I also know that hitting .397 for six weeks washes away a lot of sins, but the funny thing is… we predicted a lot of this. Not the unbelievable on-field splash he ended up making, but the concerns about maturity issues.

No one seemed to care as the season circled the toilet in early June, but I shouldn’t need to dig through the archives to link you to our concerns about what Puig would do when he came up. I’m pretty sure I predicted he’d be in the center of a brawl — he was — or that he’d potentially injure himself or others in the outfield — he has — and that even if fans didn’t care about bat flips, the pitchers who would aim fastballs at his teeth or the umpires who wouldn’t give him borderline calls sure would. That’s all exactly what happened, and when we said he might not have been ready, a lot of it had nothing to do with his stat line.

That being the case, I have no doubt that a lot of what’s been said is true, that maybe he is self-centered, or refuses to listen to those looking out for his best interests, or brings much of this on himself by the way he carries himself or the interactions he has with media. Maybe, maybe not; I can’t say we know. But even if he is, his crimes are… what exactly? Being better than 99% of other players so far? Offending some crusty old ballplayer? Getting emotional in a brawl after nearly getting his nose taken off by a pitch?

I’m hopeful that the Puig business is going to calm down, and I’m happy that he’s not in the All-Star game so we can all take a breather from this for a few days. Puig’s responsible for some share of this storm, no doubt, but not in any way commensurate to the level we’ve seen. (…he says, waiting for Puig to actually do something unforgivably terrible and render all of this moot.)

After all this, Puig came out of the game early last night thanks to a sore hip that’s bothered him ever since he slammed into the wall in Colorado — playing through pain, friends! — and is now day-to-day, though aren’t we all. Perhaps that’s not a bad thing. He could use a break, and so could we.

Dodgers 8, Rockies 0: Out of the Cellar

puig_points_2013-07-02“Yeah, it landed on top of that mountain over there.”

Here’s the thing about Yasiel Puig, really. Clayton Kershaw just went into the toughest ballpark in the big leagues to pitch in and tossed a complete game shutout, the seventh of his career. He allowed a mere four singles, walked none, and ended Michael Cuddyer‘s 27-game hitting streak. He was phenomenal, as he always is, lowering his NL-leading ERA to 1.93, and he’s gotten his control down so well these days that he’s walked just five in his last four starts. This was a fantastic outing by the best pitcher in baseball, and we need to be cognizant of what he gives us.

But no one’s going to be talking about Kershaw, are they? How can they, when the Puig train keeps on rolling to the tune of .443/.473/.745?

We all kind of figured we’d be in for a treat in Coors Field, and that’s exactly what we received. For the second game in a row, he came up in the late innings with a chance to collect a cycle, and though he struck out against Adam Ottavino rather than tripling, it hardly seems to matter. In the first, he singled to left (before being caught stealing). In the third, he doubled off the right field wall, immediately coming around to score on a Adrian Gonzalez homer. And leading off the seventh, he absolutely destroyed an Ottavino pitch to deep, straight-away center.

I feel like I should not gloss over the fact that Gonzalez did crush a homer of his own, or that A.J. Ellis got on base four times (including two doubles), or that Hanley Ramirez & Juan Uribe each had two hits, or (sigh) that Matt Kemp went 0-5 with three strikeouts. Honestly, Ramirez is nearly as hot as Puig is, and we’re not paying enough attention to that. Fairly or not, it all seems to get swallowed up by Puig-mania… and when the team has won nine of ten games, I suppose I can’t really argue with that.

Best of all, not only are the Dodgers out of last place for the first time since May 5, they actually jumped right into a tie for third since every other team in the NL West lost. (Assuming here that Arizona isn’t coming back from a 9-1 deficit to the Mets in the ninth). They’re just three games out of first place. Well, let’s be honest here — best of all is that not only are the Giants now in last place, they’re there because they got no-hit by Homer Bailey and the Reds tonight.

That’s really just icing (delicious, tasty, icing, that’s somehow good for you) on what’s a pretty fantastic looking cake right now. What a wonderful time to be a Dodger fan.