If Yasiel Puig is having a sophomore slump, it might be the best sophomore slump of all time.
There's been a lot of handwringing lately about the Los Angeles Dodgers' second-year outfielder. He's hit just one home run since June 1 and had a disastrous showing in the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game.
The swagger, suddenly, has turned to uncertainty.
So, naturally, the question on every Dodgers fan's lips became, what's wrong with Puig?
Not much, apparently.
Returning to the lineup Friday night after missing time with a hand injury, Puig went 4-for-5 with a record-setting three triples, leading the Dodgers to an 8-1 win over the division-leading San Francisco Giants.
With the victory, the Dodgers moved within 0.5 games of the Giants in the National League West. And with his performance at the plate, Puig went a long way toward silencing the doubters.
"When he's waiting on the ball and shooting the ball to right-center, he's at his best,” said Dodgers skipper Don Mattingly, per the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin's JP Hoornstra (via the Los Angeles Daily News). "Obviously, he stung the ball really well tonight. Looked patient at the plate, looked calm, looked quiet."
It's a funny thing. For all the focus heaped on Puig's power outage, his numbers have always looked solid. Even before Friday night's explosion, the 23-year-old Cuban owned a more-than-respectable .308/.398/.519 slash line.
As his countryman, Yoenis Cespedes of the Oakland A's, noted last year, power isn't central to Puig's game, per the Los Angeles Times' Bill Shaikin. "Not to be disrespectful to him at all, but I know him from Cuba," Cespedes told Shaikin. "He's not really a home run hitter."
After Friday night's performance, are you still worried about Puig?
Still, all the skills—the defense-testing speed, the superlative arm—that make Puig one of the most exciting five-tool players in the game have remained on display.
More than anything, Puig is a victim of his own success. With his bat-flipping antics and raw, unbridled potential, he's attracted as much attention (both positive and negative) as any young player in recent memory.
The expectations are sky-high—which means it takes a moon shot to clear them.
Puig didn't hit any moon shots Friday night at AT&T Park, but he did smack a trio of three-baggers. That's the most triples in a single game in Los Angeles Dodgers history and equals the franchise record set by Jimmy Sheckard in 1901, per CBSSports.com's Mike Axisa.
Puig's three triples ties #Dodgers all-time record.— Dylan Hernandez (@dylanohernandez) July 26, 2014
So, yeah. Pretty historic.
Also, pretty cathartic. Puig exerted his dominance, sure, but more importantly so did Los Angeles. Facing their hated rivals—the team that stands between them and a second straight division title—the Dodgers went nuts, banging out 15 hits.
They knocked around Tim Lincecum, on a career-reviving roll following his June 26 no-hitter against the San Diego Padres.
And they got a stellar start from Zack Greinke, who tossed seven shutout frames with 10 strikeouts (including a rare four-strikeout inning, just the fifth in Los Angeles Dodgers history, per MLB.com's Ken Gurnick).
Maybe best of all, they wrote another chapter in the storied history of the Dodgers-Giants rivalry, which looks like it'll be in full force this summer. That, as MLB.com's Richard Justice points out, is a good thing for all of us:
Baseball is better when the Dodgers and Giants are both good. They've been going at one another for around 120 years, and the games today have as much emotion and intensity as they did back in the days of Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays. They remain two of the sport's cornerstone franchises, both playing to packed houses, both occupying large places in the hearts and minds of their local citizens.
The undisputed star of the night, though, was Puig, who re-established himself as a game-changing offensive force and the unquestioned anchor of L.A.'s offense.
If this is what a sophomore slump looks like, the Dodgers better hope for more slumping.