3 Biggest Winners and Losers of the Dodgers' Opening Series
The Dodgers picked up 2014 right where last season left off—dashing the rival Diamondbacks' hopes and dreams on their home field. Only this time, the "home field" was in front of thousands of Australian fans at Sydney Cricket Ground.
Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu teamed up to pitch the Dodgers past Paul Goldschmidt, Mark Trumbo and the D'Backs in a two-game sweep that looked very much like a World Series contender crushing a team still stuck in spring training.
In the first game, Kershaw twirled a masterpiece and Scott Van Slyke provided the power in a 3-1 win. Game 2 saw an early 7-0 lead for the Dodgers turn into a 7-5 win after a shaky bullpen performance made it interesting late.
But, the Dodgers flew home winners with a very premature two-game lead in the NL West and unlimited bragging rights in hand. Not everyone's March will end on a happy note, though, even for the winners. Here are three players who "won" in Sydney, and three who "lost" and may be sent packing for the Dodgers.
WINNER: Scott Van Slyke
Kudos to anyone who snagged Van Slyke in their fantasy leagues before the Dodgers made the trip over. With Carl Crawford staying home for the birth of his child, Van Slyke got an opportunity to start in Sydney and made the most of it.
Even though his monster fly ball somehow hit a wall of wind and stayed in the yard (and created the first defensive blooper of the season for Trumbo), Van Slyke started his season off with a double. Next time up, he squeaked an opposite-field homer around the foul pole.
That offense was enough for Kershaw, who gave up one run over 6.2 innings to start the year off with a win. With Crawford, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier already occupying a crowded outfield, Van Slyke was an afterthought and likely headed for a spot on the bench.
Though his season is likely still spent as the team's primary pinch-hitter, Van Slyke probably gained manager Don Mattingly's trust with the big game abroad. He could be a go-to outfield replacement when the inevitable day off or injury occurs for one of the starters.
LOSER: Alexander Guerrero
One at-bat is not a very good sample size. But Guerrero struck out in his only plate appearance and might not have even gotten that chance if the game weren't a blowout at the time. Despite leading the Dodgers in RBI before going to Sydney, Justin Turner and Dee Gordon got the starts against Arizona.
That alone is cause for concern with Guerrero. From the limited time we've had to watch Guerrero play, he doesn't seem quite ready for the big leagues, and management clearly isn't ready to start him there. Some seasoning in Double-A would probably do him good, much like it did for Puig in 2013.
Mattingly and the front office are probably still hoping Guerrero is the long-term solution at second base, and its very likely to happen if Dee Gordon's defense and on-base percentage don't vastly improve. But for now, the Dodgers seem content to platoon Gordon and Turner there.
And even though Guerrero didn't make good use of his one at-bat, it's more worrisome for him that he didn't receive any more playing time in Australia. His fate seems sealed—he's almost assuredly going to end up in the minors come April.
WINNER: Hyun-Jin Ryu
In a rotation led by last year's Cy Young winner and another ace who once claimed the AL version in Kansas City, Ryu can often be overlooked. But the southpaw was brilliant in his start in Sydney, allowing just two hits and a walk over five scoreless innings.
His stat line—and the eye test, even—say that he had a better start than Kershaw, which is a fantastic way to start the year. Even if you don't think Ryu out-pitched his teammate, the power stuff and the control was all there, and it was beautiful to watch.
Ryu had an incredible rookie season for the Dodgers, but if he can improve even further on his game in 2014, the Dodgers will have the best top of the rotation in the majors. The Diamondbacks' offense is no joke, and Ryu made them look silly for all five frames.
Mattingly should feel even more confident with his top three after Ryu's performance than he did last year. And since he took Zack Greinke's spot in this situation, Ryu did well to put the rest of the league on notice—there might be more than two aces wearing Dodger blue.
LOSER: Jose Dominguez
Dominguez is an undersized flamethrower who came out of nowhere to wow Dodgers fans last season in a fantastic MLB debut. After ending last season with a leg injury, hopes have been high for the electrifying righty coming into 2014.
Though the Dodgers have a plethora of talented bullpen arms already, they were hoping Dominguez would make a strong case for a spot at the big league level. Instead, it looks like he may spend some time refining his control in Triple-A.
If Dominguez were going to make a statement, Game 2 in Sydney was the appropriate time and place. Instead, protecting a 7-1 lead, Dominguez made things interesting by allowing three baserunners (two walks) in one-third of an inning and ended his outing with three earned runs charged to his name.
Though one of those runs scored when Kenley Jansen allowed a rare home run, it was still discouraging to see Dominguez struggle against a lineup he's expected to face multiple times per season.
The kid has all the tools to succeed, but with a bad game in Sydney coupled with a bunch of power arms already occupying bullpen spots, I expect Dominguez to start in the minors and be replaced by Jamey Wright or Seth Rosin in the bigs.
WINNER: Dee Gordon
Many Dodgers fans had given up on Gordon, who has had his fair share of second chances already. But the young speedster put on some weight in the offseason and vastly improved his approach at the plate, and it's really paying dividends on the offensive side of the ball.
In Australia, Gordon hit leadoff in Game 2 and went 3-for-4 with a double and two runs scored, combining with Puig (3-for-5) to set the table beautifully for the middle of the order.
It's the kind of game the Dodgers are hoping becomes a regular occurrence if Gordon can hang on to the starting second base job, because having speed like that at the top of an already potent lineup would cause massive headaches for opposing pitching staffs.
Gordon's defense at second, though he made the transition rapidly, still leaves a lot to be desired. But his bad error aside, Gordon was impressive at the dish in Sydney and more than likely played his way into a starting gig for the time being.
LOSER: Yasiel Puig
I love Puig as much as the next Dodgers fan, because it's not everyday your team gets to pencil in a 23-year-old, five-tool player into the lineup. And for as much character as the kid possesses, the fanbase (and management, apparently) was hoping for a bit of improvement in the mental aspect of his game.
So far, 2014 hasn't been a shining example of maturity for Puig. In the first game in Sydney, Puig went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts from the leadoff spot. In Game 2, he picked it up a notch with three hits and a couple nice plays in right field.
But Mattingly seemed miffed with Puig after the series, both for his lackadaisical basket catches of routine fly balls and two baserunning mistakes that brought back frustrating memories of his spectacular rookie season.
We've seen Puig improve his plate discipline extremely quickly and go for weeks without spells of bad throws or bad judgment on the basepaths. But in the first two games that counted, we saw the same distracted kid who caused a dilemma that should be unthinkable: Is he ready for the big time?
Talent-wise, Puig is there. He has every tool in the book and then some. But when veterans like Adrian Gonzalez are already pulling him aside for scolding in the second game of the season, it's fairly obvious that things need to change faster than they are. Here's to hoping Puig can continue to have fun and entertain us all, without the annoying drama that goes with it.