5 Overreactions Dodgers Fans Should Avoid Making After Opening Series
The Los Angeles Dodgers began the defending of their 2013 NL West division title by pummeling the Arizona Diamondbacks in their two-game series in Sydney, Australia, last Saturday. The 3-1 and 7-5 victories were an ideal start to a campaign filled with champagne dreams. However, Dodgers fans should resist the urge to start waiving World Series championship flags with 160 games still left on the schedule.
The Dodgers will look to remain undefeated when they face the San Diego Padres on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball this weekend.
Here are five takeaways from the opening series against Arizona that Dodgers fans would do well to forget by Sunday night.
5. Spring Training Results
Remember when people were freaking out about Clayton Kershaw getting shelled during spring training? That was soooooo two weeks ago.
There was some cause for worry after the reigning NL Cy Young award winner posted a 9.20 ERA and .317 BAA across four spring starts. But there should never have been any real concern that those results would carry over into the regular season.
As expected, Kershaw delivered the type of Opening Day start that you’d expect from a guy that recently signed the richest contract in major league history for a pitcher.
Kershaw earned his first victory of the 2014 season by striking out seven D’Backs over 6.2 innings. He surrendered just five hits and only walked one batter during the 102-pitch effort.
Order was quickly restored in the baseball universe after Kershaw’s first outing. However, peace in Dodgerland was again disrupted following the announcement that Kershaw’s scheduled start against the Padres will be pushed back due to inflammation in a muscle in his back.
The injury doesn’t appear to be serious enough for him to actually miss a start, nor is Kershaw likely to hit the disabled list. Given L.A.’s horrific luck with injuries over the past two seasons, let’s hope that Kershaw’s latest scare is as minor as he believes it to be.
4. The Bullpen Woes
The timing of the Dodgers-D’Backs series—scheduled more than a week before the rest of the regular season kicks off next Monday—left many questioning how prepared the players would be to deliver a major league quality performance.
Pitchers, in particular, need most of spring training to ease into their regular season routines.
This was never more evident than in the second game of the series in Sydney, particularly when it came to the bullpen.
Chris Perez, Brian Wilson and Kenley Jansen gave up no hits, no runs and just one walk over a combined 2.1 innings in Game 1 of the two-game set. But the rest of the bullpen looked woefully unprepared for the regular season in Game 2.
A 6-0 Dodgers lead heading into the bottom of the sixth inning quickly turned into a closer-than-expected 7-5 final score. Chris Withrow, Paco Rodriguez, Jamey Wright and Jose Dominguez combined to give up five hits, seven walks and four earned runs in just 3.1 innings.
Jansen then allowed a first-pitch solo home run to Mark Trumbo in the bottom of the ninth before finally closing the door on Arizona’s rally.
While Kershaw and Game-2 starter Hyun-Jin Ryu certainly appeared to be in mid-season form following their regular-season debuts. But, by and large, the bullpen results served as evidence that most pitchers need that extra week of work to prepare for the regular season.
3. Dee Gordon: NL Batting Champion
If Dee Gordon’s first regular-season start of the 2014 season is a harbinger of things to come, then Dodgers fans are going to get the breakout season they’ve long expected. The fleet-footed shortstop turned second baseman went 3-for-4 out of the leadoff spot while scoring two runs and driving in another in the second game of the D’Backs series.
Gordon’s performance was indeed impressive. However, his chances of winning the NL batting title are remote, even if he manages to hold on to the starting job at second base.
Gordon got off to a slow start this spring before finding his way at the plate right before the Dodgers left for Australia. He was hitting just .172 before putting together a four-game hit streak—which included three consecutive two-hit performances—from March 13-16.
That late surge—combined with Alex Guerrero struggling more than expected in his own transition from shortstop to second base—allowed Gordon to emerge as a clearer favorite to begin the regular season as the starting second baseman.
Along with the strong regular-season debut, Gordon now has a respectable .295 average and .333 OBP this spring. He’s also displayed improved base-running skills by going nine-for-nine on stolen base attempts.
Even with Guerrero set to begin the season in the minors, Gordon may find himself in a platoon situation at second. It’s worth noting that Justin Turner, not Gordon, got the start in Game 1 against D’Backs lefty Wade Miley.
Gordon doesn’t turn 26 until late April. And though it seems like he’s been around forever, he still has just 625 career at-bats to his credit.
It’s not too late for Gordon to fulfill the considerable promise he once had as one of the Dodgers’ top prospects. However, fans would be wise to temper their expectations for the career .259 hitter.
2. The 2-0 Record
While the Dodgers quest for an undefeated season is still very much alive, the trip to Australia was not perfect. In addition to the bullpen struggles, Los Angeles committed a fielding error in each game (interestingly they were both committed by the starting second basemen, Turner and Gordon).
Although the bats came alive in Game 2, the Dodgers went just 5-for-33 in the first game while facing Miley and four of Arizona’s relief pitchers. Los Angeles batters also struck out an alarming 18 times in just 67 combined at-bats during the series.
That’s a troubling stat, particularly against a D’Backs staff that is not among the National League’s best and without their best starting pitcher.
A two-game sweep is a two-game sweep no matter how you get it. However, the Dodgers will need to play better baseball throughout the season to improve upon last year’s trip to the NLCS.
1. The Yasiel Puig Experience
If you were hoping to see a more mature less polarizing Yasiel Puig after just one year of major league baseball, then you’ve already been greatly disappointed. The calendar has yet to hit April 1 and Year 2 of the Puig soap opera already promises to be at least as interesting as the first.
It only took two games for us to see the very best and the very worst of Puig in action.
He kicked off the 2014 campaign with an 0-for-5 performance that included three strikeouts. Puig went 3-for-5 with a run scored and two RBI in Game 2. But he also committed two egregious base-running errors in that game, reminding us that the wild stallion is nowhere close to being tamed.
Puig either hasn’t learned or is clearly ignoring the lessons that teammates took great pains to instill in him last season. The gaffes infuriated manager Don Mattingly to the point where he called a team meeting of the year to clear the air on Puig’s approach to the game.
And remember, the Dodgers are 2-0.
Either you love Puig’s passion for the game or you find his whole approach to be a disrespectful affront to old-school baseball tradition. If you care about baseball even a little bit, you clearly have an opinion on Puig; there’s just no middle ground with this kid.
You don’t have to be a Puig apologist to conclude that it’s way too early to start sounding the alarm. He was largely responsible for the Dodgers' turnaround last season, and their chances of duplicating (or improving upon) that success will rise or fall with Puig’s ability to prove that his rookie season was not a fluke.
Puig’s growth as a player cannot be measured by box scores alone. He must earn his teammates’ respect by showing a level of maturity and attention to detail that we have yet to see out of the 23-year-old phenom.
If Puig starts to show that he gets it, the Dodgers have a great chance of ending their 26-year World Series drought. If not, we could be talking about Puig in another uniform before the July 31 trade deadline.