Sarah's Take: Puig just what Dodgers need
Since Yasiel Puig returned to the lineup on Saturday, the Los Angeles Dodgers' offense has looked more energetic and capable of producing runs. Before this, the Dodgers had been going through a slump.
Many people have been focused on the pitching. After all, the Dodgers have lost two projected starters for the year. Also, last year the bullpen was the Achilles' heel of the team. It's hard to know what to expect from Brett Anderson, who hasn't pitched a full season since his rookie season in 2009.
Pitching is an important aspect of the game. However, if a team doesn't score, it can't win no matter how well a pitcher performs.
From the beginning of the season, the Dodgers have showed surprising power. Despite what batting coach Mark McGwire has repeatedly said about the Dodgers not being a home run hitting club, their 81 homers are second in the Majors. It seems like if they don't hit a home run, they don't usually score.
Baseball needs teams that manufacture runs. If teams can't do this, they're prone to long offensive slumps. The Dodgers just finished one of those where they looked lackadaisical and allowed the San Francisco Giants to almost catch them atop the NL West. They will have more slumps, and the Giants probably will take advantage of them.
Manager Don Mattingly rarely puts on plays that will help manufacture runs, allowing the opposing pitchers to get in a comfortable rhythm. Even with a runner on base, the opposing pitcher doesn't need to throw over to first since he knows that the likelihood of the Dodgers trying to steal second is unlikely.
The Dodgers have the fewest stolen bases in the Majors. They have young players who don't know how to read the pitchers' moves well yet, so they will have a high percentage of caught stealing. It's certainly frustrating when a young player runs his team out of an inning, but sometimes it's necessary for him to learn. First base coach Davy Lopes is considered to be one of the best at teaching the art of base stealing, so the Dodgers need to utilize his talents. This time of the year the Dodgers can afford a few mistakes but in August and September they can't.
As the season proceeds the pressure intensifies, teams often times don't score much. Manufacturing runs is vital for the success of a team vying for a playoff spot.
An old baseball adage that speed never has a slump is accurate. Last December when Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi made two eye-popping trades, most Dodger fans were worried about losing Matt Kemp. However, I felt losing Dee Gordon had the potential to be a bigger loss for the Dodgers than Kemp.
Yes, Kemp can be a superstar, but the Dodgers have two young superstars in Joc Pederson and Puig. This year Kemp has only two homers. At 30, he has decreasing speed and arthritic hips. He never has gotten good jumps on fly balls, and his defense suffers with his diminishing speed.
If the Dodgers had kept Kemp, they wouldn't have a place to play Pederson, who is a much better outfielder than Kemp. Already he has saved countless runs with his superior defense, which helps the pitching staff conserve pitches. He also has 17 home runs. Despite striking out a lot, he has a great eye for the strike zone. Kemp always has struck out too much while not walking enough.
While the Dodgers had a replacement for Kemp, they didn't have one for Gordon until they traded for Howie Kendrick. Gordon's speed gave the Dodgers another offensive dimension and a traditional leadoff man. Right now Pederson is leading off for the Dodgers, and he doesn't get on base enough to set the table for the hitters behind him. Now Gordon leads the National League in batting average, and every time he reaches, he's a threat to run. Usually he turns a single into a double with his amazing speed. At any time he can bunt for a hit, and he makes the opposing infield nervous and more likely to make an error.
Hopefully a healthy Puig will enable the Dodgers to manufacture more runs.