The Dodgers spent most of May and early June mostly treading water and watching the rival Giants catch up in the division. With the return of Yasiel Puig, they may be ready to break out once again.
They are eight games over .500, just more than one-third of the way through the season. They are in first place. They have Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Adrian Gonzalez and rookie sensation Joc Pederson. So why is everyone freaking out about the Dodgers?
Maybe it has to do with a once cozy lead being slimmed to just a couple games by the rival San Francisco Giants in a very short span of time. Maybe it’s the general frustration with missing out on the World Series — despite fielding competitive teams — since 1988. Maybe it’s that the bullpen has gone from heroic to stoic frighteningly quick.
Or, most likely, it’s because the National League’s most powerful offense has been absent as of late. The team batting average, OBP and OPS all dipped significantly in May after a scalding hot start, and the win pace has ceased as well. Most startlingly, the Dodgers have struggled immensely against the only two contenders they’ve faced, St. Louis (2-4 after a win Saturday night) and San Francisco (2-7). That could all change soon, as Yasiel Puig has finally returned to the Dodger lineup.
The Dodgers boast 2014 NL RBI leader Gonzalez, veterans Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins, rookie spark plug Pederson, hot-hitting new catcher Yasmani Grandal and have valuable contributions from Alex Guerrero, Scott Van Slyke and Justin Turner off the bench. Even with the departures of Dee Gordon, Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez in the off season, the Dodgers have put on a surprising offensive show.
But one key ingredient, who had been missing since he went on the DL with an injured hamstring at the end of April, is the talented (and endlessly entertaining) Yasiel Puig. Though he was only hitting .279 with two home runs and four RBI in 11 games before hitting the DL, Puig is a valuable asset to the lineup.
Aside from the fear factor his presence instills in opposing pitchers, Puig has the capability to light up the scorecard anytime he plays. When on a hot streak, few can match Puig’s ability to hit for average and power for long stretches. His bat can bring a month-long spark to a lineup (and it has; see Dodgers, version 2013 and 2014), and the team could desperately use him now.
Luckily, Puig finally returned from the DL Saturday night to play in this weekend’s series against the hated Cardinals. He looked healthy and powerful in his last few rehab games, and was eager to re-join the club, according to multiple reported quotes. In his first game back, Puig went 1-for-3 with a double, and scored and drove in a run.
It couldn’t come at a better time for the Dodgers, who keep squeaking out wins against teams like the Rockies and Braves, but had been struggling mightily against the aforementioned contenders. They need something to get them out of the funk, and Puig could do just that.
Dodgers fans have been tortured since 1988, as previously mentioned, especially with the Giants taking three of the last five World Series titles. They have no patience for excuses, however valid, regarding the amount of players injured or natural ebbs and flows of a long baseball season.
So getting Puig back will at least help everyone feel optimistic again after a long stretch of mediocrity to finish May and begin June.
Of course, he’s a force to be reckoned with in his own right. In 2014, Puig hit .296 with 16 homers and 69 RBI, after hitting 19 homers at a .319 clip in 104 games in his spectacular 2013 rookie season. He hasn’t played long enough this year to make a huge impact, but everyone — opponents included — know exactly what he’s capable of.
If the Dodgers’ offense snaps out of its funk in the next couple weeks, don’t be surprised if Puig is at the center of it. Likely to be slotted right back into the heart of the lineup (he hit third last night in his return), the mere presence of his bat could completely change the lineup and morph the Dodgers back into the offensive juggernaut it was to open the season.
From there, the team is truly enough to contend for another division title, and if we’re feeling really honest, the club’s first World Series in 26 years.
If you believe in a thing called love and/or the Dodgers, hit me on Twitter @Jamblinman.