Tag Archives: Yasiel Puig

Devastating loss has Dodgers on brink

There is no way to gloss over Sunday night’s Game 5 loss by the Dodgers. It’s devastating. They now trail the Houston Astros 3-games-to-2 as the series shifts west to Dodger Stadium on Tuesday night.

First, if you are expecting me to rail on the umpiring and the balls & strikes calls in Game 5 you might as well stop reading here. The umpiring was less than stellar but it is not the reason why the Dodgers lost. Blaming umpires is the novices way of making excuses. If you blame umpires it shows that you never really played the game, and you don’t really understand it. Ok, now that I’m done with that, let’s move on.

13-12 losses in baseball are tough. They are excruciating when you look at all of the various ways the Dodgers could have won this game. Before I focus on what the Dodgers didn’t do, let me first credit the relentlessness of the Houston Astros. My God, what a display of grit and perseverance as they continually battled their way back. Their approach at the plate was incredible, especially as they tried to get base-runners when trailing early.

George Springer, the walk-off winner hero Alex Bregman and of course the incomparable Jose Altuve and young phenom Carlos Correa. The at-bats these top four hitters in the Astros line-up took were simply amazing. Altuve and Correa hit some pretty nasty pitches for base hits in the 4th inning to set up Yuli Gurriel’s three-run home run to tie it.

Then, after Cody Bellinger’s three-run blast gave the Dodgers the lead 7-4 headed to the bottom of the 5th, here came the Astros again. Two out walks to Springer and Bregman, where Springer saw 8 pitches and Bregman saw 10 were amazing. Then, it was Altuve who hit the three-run homer to tie it.

The Astros know how to apply pressure and they are very good at it in their home ballpark. Let’s see if they can ride that wave to Dodger Stadium.

The Dodgers jumped on Dallas Keuchel early, cashing in two 1st-inning walks and a two out two-run single by Logan Forsythe to grab a 2-0 nothing lead. Then a botched run down play by the Astros netted the Dodgers another run making it 3-0. In the 4th the Dodgers would add another and led 4-0 going to the bottom of the 4th with Clayton Kershaw cruising.

But the demons of post-seasons past reared its ugly head again, and this time one couldn’t blame the sign-stealing of the St. Louis Cardinals for his demise. This time it was ill-timed walks, location mistakes and great at-bats by the Astros stars. It’s unfortunate for Kershaw. A true gem, a stud, a guy Dodger fans love and want to see do well. It was painful watching him fail, and for many of us that love and defend him it was simply horrifying on baseball’s biggest stage.

In many instances Dave Roberts gets a pass when managing this ball club. Remember, he is simply pushing the buttons and navigating the course set by the analytics crew in the front office. There is no way he would have the job if he wasn’t following their directives. But, on Sunday night he had some egregious mis-steps.

First, with the score tied at 7 Justin Turner led off of the top of the 7th with a ringing double off the wall in right. Kike Hernandez was the next hitter and he was asked to lay down a bunt. Yes, a bunt. The tenor and flow of the game dictated that one run was about as useful as a pay toilet in a diarrhea ward. One run was an aroma. For Roberts to think and actually believe that one run would hold up in the top of the 7th inning is fool-hardy. The Dodgers have spent the entire year bunting primarily in low-scoring games where the ball isn’t flying around the stadium like a beach-ball with a beleaguered bullpen. It was an awful decision. It turned out to be a dud as Hernandez bunted it back to the mound, and Turner on a bad leg, after taking a screamer off his calf on Saturday, was easily thrown out at 3rd. Luckily the Dodgers would grab the lead when Springer would mis-play a ball in center and Hernandez would score all the way from first giving the Dodgers a one-run lead.

Second, with the Dodgers leading 8-7 going to the bottom of the 7th inning the Dodgers went to Brandon Morrow for the third straight day and for the 12th time in 13 games this post-season. Now, while he is not pitching in consecutive days, that is a lot of work. And, considering he has never thrown three straight days before, Roberts told assembled media before the game that he did not want to use Morrow. He used him. And, it blew up in his face. Morrow threw six pitches in the game. He gave up a 447 foot home run to Springer, a laser single to left by Bregman, a rocket shot double to left by Altuve and a Crawford Box home run to Correa. When the dust had settled after 180 seconds of baseball, the Astros had turned an 8-7 deficit into an 11-8 lead. It was devastating.

Before the game Roberts had said he may have to lean on Ross Stripling and Tony Cingrani. Well, those two pitchers cleaned up the mess and pitched well. Roberts first instincts were right, yet he out-thought himself and in the end it burned him and the Dodgers. Morrow gave up the runs, but it wasn’t on him. He did what he could. It’s a manager’s job to read the room, Roberts did it horribly.

The Dodgers would miraculously rally in the top of the 9th showing the guts we’ve come to love about this team. Down 12-9 going to the 9th the Dodgers would get a two-run home run from Yasiel Puig, a one-handed flip of the wrists that settled into the Crawford Boxes in the left cutting the deficit to 12-11. Austin Barnes would then double to left and after Joc Pederson grounded out, Chris Taylor would line a two-out two-strike single to center tying the game at 12. Gritty !

The game would end with the fatigued Kenley Jansen on the hill. After a scoreless 9th, Jansen would hit Brian McCann with two outs. He then carefully pitched to Springer and walked him before Bregman won it with a liner to left.

13-12 Astros win.

It’s crushing. The Dodgers had their best pitcher on the mound with leads of 4-0 and 7-4 and couldn’t hold a pivotal Game 5. They now have to beat Justin Verlander at home him Game 6 to force a Game 7. Verlander has been dominant this post-season. Sure, the Dodgers got to him in Game 2, but that was where the master bullpen plan started to crack for the Dodgers and now the pieces are in shambles.

To beat Verlander they will have to have a masterful approach, his pitch count won’t matter since the Astros bullpen is in tatters. With a game in tow, AJ Hinch is going to let Verlander go all the way. He won’t worry about the bullpen. Verlander’s stuff is so good he can throw 130 pitches and still be hitting 97 on the gun. The Dodgers are in the deep waters now.

They will turn to Rich Hill, hoping he can give them more than the 4 innings he was asked to give in Game 2. In fact the Dodgers will need 6 to 7 innings from Hill. The Dodgers bullpen is fried. On Tuesday they just can’t afford a short outing by Hill, plus he has no margin for error considering who he is facing.

On its face it seems the Dodgers aren’t in bad shape, they are going home down 3-2 with a chance to win two home games and win the World Series. But, that is not the case. Their manager has the yips, their strength, which is the bullpen is a mess and they are facing the best pitcher left in the series right now and he is fully rested and ready to bring Houston a championship.

There are only so many times the game of baseball will give you the opportunity to win a series.

The Dodgers were three outs away from a 2-0 series lead at home with the best closer in the game on the mound and lost. They had a 4-0 lead and then a 7-4 lead with this generation’s best pitcher on the hill and lost.

At some point the game of baseball says, “your time is up.”

A Case Against Yasiel Puig

 

The Los Angeles Dodgers have an elephant in the room and his name is Yasiel Puig.

Two summers ago he stepped foot into Dodger Stadium and set the Ravine on fire. He joined a languishing team that couldn’t get out of its own way and was in need of a healthy dose of 5-hour energy. What they got was a raw, young Cuban baseball player that hit everything in sight and didn’t stop hitting until the season ended. His jolt of energy helped propel the Dodgers to an amazing 42-8 record over an 8-week stretch and saw them surge into the NL West lead and eventually the division title.

With Puig came challenges, he was nick-named the “wild horse” by our beloved Vin Scully because he ran wild on the bases and didn’t seem to care what the third base coach wanted him to do, Puig just did. His Dave Parker like arm threw missiles from the outfield, pegging runners who were trying to take the extra 90-feet, but occasionally he completely missed the cut-off man and runners would get the extra 90. We all over-looked his lack of judgement at the plate. It was hard to criticize a guy squaring up so often, but with two strikes he never shortened his swing to either extend at bats or simply live to see another day. It was either outhouse or penthouse with Puig and Dodger fans were living on the top floor and had caviar dreams.

2014 was not a horrible year for Puig. He hit .296 with a .380 on base percentage but he fell into a tailspin at the end of the year and the much maligned former Dodgers manager Don Mattingly bench him in the playoffs. On one hand it was surprising, Puig came into Spring Training woefully out of shape and never really shed the excess pounds. When you really delved into the numbers his high strikeout numbers were not going to serve the Dodgers well against a Cardinal team where situational baseball was at a premium. Puig had some awful at-bats in the post-season and he seemed completely lost as the Dodgers were once again unceremoniously shown the door by St. Louis.

During 2014 we start hear rumblings about Puig having issues with teammates. The “issues” seem to revolve around Puig’s inability to get along with fellow Dodgers. Molly Knight’s amazing chronicle of the 2014 season in her book “The Best Team Money Can Buy” highlights numerous instances where Puig alienated himself from the team and got into skirmishes with those in Dodger Blue. There was the altercation with Justin Turner where teammates had to hold them back and then the most famous run-in came with former Dodger Zack Greinke. The Dodgers were stuck in traffic heading from the airport in Chicago to their hotel. During this traffic jam, Puig angrily got off the bus, tired of waiting and lifted the cargo bay looking for his luggage. Ignoring pleas from his teammates to close the bay, Greinke got off the bus, found Puig’s luggage and tossed into the middle of Michigan Avenue. Puig and Greinke needed to be restrained.

Fast forward to 2015. A year I like to classify as the lost year for Puig. He played in only 79 games. Pulled his hamstring twice. He was still overweight. His average sunk to .255. He struck out in roughly 23 percent of his at-bats and he had become a shell of what we knew him to be. Puig defender’s cite how difficult it is to acclimate to the American way of life after living on crumbs in Cuba. I won’t discount this. The problem is that we are now in year three, moving on to year four in the Dodger-Puig tenure and I don’t see a player who is an asset to the organization. I don’t see a player who understands responsibility to team. I don’t see a player who wants to get better. He keeps making the same mistakes on and off the field. Whether he is flailing away at a two-strike breaking ball out of the zone or is driving 120 miles per hour in South Florida, it’s simply the same crap on a different day.

His act has grown tiresome.

The entitlement crowd feels it is OK that he is still trying to grow up. They constantly make excuses for him; whether he is speeding through a stop light or a third base coach’s stop sign.

They see him as a wayward young man who deserves the patience of a fan base that is hungry for a championship but must continue to watch the “wild horse” play the game the way HE sees fit.

Chemistry matters in baseball. Puig’s periodic table is toxic.

I loved Yasiel Puig. He was fresh, new, exciting, rambunctious and played the game with a hunger that was infectious. He seemed angry with the world while playing at an “all systems go” level on the baseball field and we were angry with people who ridiculed and criticized him. I spent the better part of two years defending Puig against all comers because he was MY guy, he was OUR guy. I can’t defend him anymore.

I just don’t believe this union should continue. Whether it’s a recent scrape in a Miami hot spot or his continued lack of professionalism as a teammate I think it’s time to sell-low and rid the organization of this prima donna player who slowly chisels away at the fabric of the unit.

 

 

 

Dodgers defense is worrisome

Not gonna lie, this Los Angeles Dodgers defense is a major concern. I know it is only April but there isn’t some magic elixir when your team can’t play good defense. It’s not like you can call up a young stud from the minors a-la Yasiel Puig, and all of a sudden everything gets fixed defensively. Plain and simple, the Dodgers defense stinks !!

While many in the Blue Kingdom lament the Dodgers struggling offense and recent inconsistencies in the bullpen, I know those won’t be long-term problems. But, defense could be. Let’s look at why I think the Dodgers brass should be very concerned with their penchant to kick the ball around.

First problem, Hanley Ramirez. “Yes,” I know he is a great offensive short-stop but every time the ball is hit to the guy I lose a few days off of my life. What is with his hesitation throwing the ball to first? Vin Scully says he is trying to get the seams lined up so he can make a good throw to first. Well, sometimes you just don’t have time to, field the ball, look at it, move it around in your hand to find the seams, and THEN throw it to first. Sometimes you just need to get rid of it. That is what good big league short-stops do. This Hanley-ism is driving me crazy. Every time he fields a ball it’s an adventure. Hanley’s range is limited. On occasion his route to balls is just purely nonsensical. When you combine all of these defensive attributes, it is just plain terrifying. I thought Hanley would be better defensively since he is playing for a long-term contract, it’s gotten significantly worse.

I have no problem with Juan Uribe at third. Despite a few early season errors, the guy is a Hoover over there and I am happy with Uribe’s reliability at the hot corner.

Adrian Gonzalez is a solid first baseman. He is not what he once was, but he isn’t a chump over there either. AGone’s lateral movement is not what it was when he played for the Padres, but he certainly doesn’t hurt the Dodgers at first base.

The Dodgers are crossing their fingers and hoping the Dee Gordon/Justin Turner platoon at second base, works. Gordon has been electrifying at the plate and is still learning to play second base after making the switch in the off-season. The fact that he has only played second base for a year or so doesn’t calm my nerves. But, I like how hard Dee has worked at improving his over-all game. Defense isn’t a strength of his, and it is something we will have to live with for the time being.

The outfield. Guh ! Where do I start ? Carl Crawford has speed, but watching him run balls down in the outfield is like watching a Pinto go from 0-60 in 9.4 seconds. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like it takes him awhile to get to those engines revving. When he does get going, he can really chase balls down in the gap or toward the lines. His arm is probably the worst in the major leagues. It wasn’t a good arm before he had Tommy-John surgery, now its just plain awful. It is a liability. Everyone, and I mean everyone is given the green light to run on his pop-gun.

Matt Kemp used to run like a gazelle. But the hamstring and ankle injuries have taken their toll. He just doesn’t look the same. I believe he can recapture that old magic. I have seen many-a-player take more than a year to recover from those nagging leg injuries and get back to form. But, it’s not something that one can guarantee. He just doesn’t get to balls like he used to. His arm is better than average.

Andre Ethier has been a solid outfielder. He is not a speedster but he gets to balls and has enough to just make the plays. While it’s not ideal to have him play center field, sometimes he must out of necessity.

Yasiel Puig has improved. He is now hitting the cut-off man and his ability to chase a ball down, pivot and throw may be the best in the game right now. But, his nonchalant one-handed catches will prove costly. I know he “thinks” it looks good and he has done it forever but it almost proved costly in San Francisco last week. Mix in a two-handed grab every now and then. The “Wild Horse” has a ridiculous arm. Everyone knows it. He has done a great job of not showing it off on every single throw like last year. He is young and we give him a bit of lee-way as he still learns the nuances of the game.

Having committed 23 errors in 21 games, including that brutal display in last night’s loss to the Phillies, is not acceptable. As good as we expect the Dodgers to hit and pitch, they must play better defense to be a championship contender.

Dodgers are fine….

 

The knee-jerk reactionaries that make up baseball fan bases’ can sometimes be the end of me. With every win, “we are going all the way.” With every loss, “dump him, demote him, run him out-of-town.” Every fan base has these irrational members of their fan base. Hell, I have been that guy at times. It’s the nature of the game.The passions our teams’ stir.

Thank goodness these reactionaries are not in charge of my  Dodgers. Baseball lends itself to the peanut gallery. The game moves at a slow pace. A simple game that “seems” easy to play. Of course those of us that have played, know there is nothing further from the truth.

Last week  Dodger fans en masse were bemoaning consecutive losses to the San Francisco Giants. These out-of-touch fans were professing the beloved Bums were done, finished, kaput. The problem with this thinking is it’s not true and doesn’t take into account the marathon nature of the game. How quickly these fans forget the two-and-a-half month slump from the Dodgers in 2013. I don’t  have to remind long-time supporters that the Dodgers were 9.5 games back of the Giants a week into June last year with a record of 23-32 and in last place. But, I find I constantly am in head-shaking mode when these alarmists pontificate on Dodger fortunes.

Here are some facts about the 2014 Dodgers.

First, they are supremely talented. A virtual All-Star team all around the diamond. Adrian Gonzalez will put up great numbers again at first base. Hanley Ramirez, despite his defensive deficiencies, is as electric from the short-stop position offensively as there is in the game. Yasiel Puig is injured now, but should bring his electrifying game back to forefront in the next couple of days. Matt Kemp is coming along, after two injury plagued years. With Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford off to solid starts, the Dodgers appear poised to be an offensive juggernaut in 2014.

When you throw in the clutch-hitting and defensive prowess of Juan Uribe and the pleasant surprise that is Dee Gordon at second base, this could be a very special offensive team.

The Dodgers pitching is the backbone of this club. Clayton Kershaw should be back soon and threw without pain on Tuesday. The two-time Cy-Young award winner is the best lefty in the game. Zack Greinke has had two solid outings and figures to be the best number two starter in all of baseball. Hyun Jin-Ryu has had two great starts and a bad one. His bad one against San Francisco was magnified by shoddy defense (we’ll get to that in a moment), and Ryu just couldn’t stop the bleeding. Ryu is  a great complement to what the Dodgers already have. Early indications are that Dan Haren of old is back. Two top-notch starts out of the number four spot in the Dodgers rotation can not be under-stated.

The bullpen is a huge strength. Despite a couple of mis-steps from Kenley Jansen in the Tigers series this week,  the Dodgers have the closer they want in that spot. With strong power arms Chris Withrow, Chris Perez, Jose Dominguez setting up set- up man Brian Wilson, the Dodger pen is deep with power arms and filth. Withrow has come into his own and is downright nasty. Perez is looking to re-capture the consistency of his days when he closed for Cleveland. His fastball was topping out at 90 in Cleveland last year, he is now throwing 94 with movement for the Dodgers. A nice fit.  Jose Dominguez flirts with 100 miles-per-hour and must be more consistent with his secondary pitches to be trusted in late inning situations. Brian Wilson has been sidelined with some elbow soreness for the past week, but is re-habbing well and should be back with big club next week. The soreness is not thought to be serious.

With lefties J.P. Howell and Paco Rodriguez ready to match-up when called upon, the Dodgers have the balance that should serve them well deep into the dog days.

The biggest question mark in my mind regarding the Dodgers is their defense. This club has some issues fielding the ball. Bad defense should not be overlooked. It costs teams games and pitcher’s wear and tear on their arms. Ramirez stands out as a defensive liability at short. Over the last week we have seen Hanley short-arm throws to first, air mail throws and show limited range. Not gonna lie, this concerns me. His defensive play is vital to this team’s success. The Dodgers can flourish with average defense from Han-Ram, but if he continues to leak oil in the field this will extend innings, extend games, and cost the Dodger starters pitches when they should be in the dugout. The experience that is Dee Gordon at second base has worked out nicely. Gonzalez is solid at first, Uribe is fantastic at third with that cannon and accurate arm.

In the outfield, Crawford can run balls down but his surgically repaired elbow prevents him from being a threat to throw base-runners out. Kemp, for now, patrols center and it appears to me has lost a step. His long gazelle-like strides have given way to a bit of tentativeness which shouldn’t be surprising considering he missed most of the last two seasons. Ethier is a solid right fielder with a little bit more than an average arm. This brings us to Yasiel Puig, the greatest of anomalies. It’s a love-hate relationship with Puig’s defense. I love his aggressiveness. I love how he never gives up on a ball. I love how he thinks he can make every play. As a fan I love every ounce of energy and effort he shows when chasing balls down. Now to the hate. I hate that he still doesn’t seem to understand “baseball” situations. I hate that he sometimes seems more intent on showing off his arm, rather than hitting the cut-off man and keeping the double-play in order. I hate that he doesn’t learn from his mistakes and that he seems obstinate in doing things the “Puig way.” This must change or else his novelty will wear off and it will cost the Dodgers games. As I said, it’s a love-hate thing.

In conclusion, for fans to kick dirt on our 235 million dollar team shows that many of them have never played the game. One game out of 162 does not really matter. I would even say 25-to-30 game stretches don’t really matter. While we shouldn’t expect a 42-8 stretch like last year, we should expect this team to perform consistently well for the majority of this 2014 season. Are they the best team in the West ? Yes, I believe they are. The Giants are their most serious threat. But, I believe the Dodgers starting pitching and pen are better than their rivals. The Giants are showing they are going to score runs, but their porous back-end of the rotation will be their un-doing.

I will not panic if the Dodgers struggle on a Tuesday night in May. I know, when it’s all said and done, this division is theirs. I just have ignore the peanut gallery-alarmists who think Game 7 is being played on a Tuesday night in May.