The lightning rod of controversy that is Los Angeles Dodgers rookie outfielder Yasiel Puig struck once again on Wednesday night, and one can't help but wonder if his immaturity will wind up being a detriment to the Dodgers' World Series hopes when all is said and done.
There is no denying the spark that Puig has provided the Dodgers this season, as the team was 23-32 when he debuted on June 3 and has gone 55-23 since to climb into first place in the NL West.
However, that before-and-after record has been thrown around all too often, and a healthy starting rotation and surging Hanley Ramirez deserve at least as much praise for the team's drastic turnaround.
Puig has hit .346/.406/.557 with 30 RBI and 52 runs in 289 at-bats this season, but he has also made his fair share of boneheaded plays.
From getting thrown out trying for an extra base to missing cutoff men in an attempt to show off his cannon arm, he plays the game with a swagger that crosses the line into cockiness oftentimes, and that is not always to his benefit.
He stirred up some controversy earlier this season when he slid into home plate following a walk-off home run. Some called it a simple act of celebration, while others viewed it as an unprofessional display of showmanship.
Regardless of what his intentions were in that instance, he has to be aware that his actions will be scrutinized and that the questions surrounding his actions are a distraction to the team.
He made headlines for the wrong reasons again on Wednesday, as he was pulled from the game against the Cubs in the fifth inning for "disciplinary reasons," according to Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles.
Puig failed to slide into second base to break up a double play in the first inning, slammed his bat down after striking out in the third and then hot-dogged under a fly ball in the fourth inning.
That was enough for manager Don Mattingly to pull him in the fifth frame, replacing him with Skip Schumaker and saying after the game that the utility man gave them "the best chance to win" in his mind.
For what it's worth, Puig said all the right things after the game and took responsibility for his actions, but how long before the next time the 22-year-old makes negative headlines?
The Dodgers look like a team poised to contend for a World Series title, with a starting rotation built for the postseason led by Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Ricky Nolasco, and a lineup loaded with veteran talent led by a streaking Hanley Ramirez.
It's easy to forget that this was a Dodgers team and clubhouse that was an absolute mess earlier this season, and the more questions the veteran guys have to answer about Puig, the more of a distraction he could become.
Would a minor distraction be enough for the team to fall apart down the stretch? Probably not. However, it could be enough to cost them some momentum heading into the postseason and a potential run at home-field advantage if the clubhouse is affected by Puig.
Puig has hit .297/.389/.493 since the All-Star break, still fantastic numbers for a rookie, but far from the dominant performance he put on earlier this season.
As the league starts to figure him out and subpar games become more and more frequent, how long before his inevitable frustrations boil over into another distracting incident?
Because the Dodgers have a veteran-heavy roster, they should be able to keep their eyes on the ultimate prize better than a younger group of guys would.
They also have a skipper at the helm in Mattingly who has the laid-back personality to keep from stirring things up even further in-house. Can you imagine Bobby Valentine trying to handle the Puig situation?
All things considered, Puig is undeniably a supreme talent and an asset to the Dodgers' lineup. The drama and unwanted attention he brings to the team are offset by his production on the field more times than not, and Mattingly will continue to pencil his name in the lineup as a result.
However, for a Dodgers club focused on winning it all this season and in a prime position to do so, the last thing it needs is for one player's attitude to alter the chemistry of the hottest team in baseball.
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