Will a Cuban Refugee Save the Dodgers’ Season and don mattingly’s Job?

The empty uniform in the Dodgers’ dugout guiding the best team money can buy to last place in the NL West appeared on the verge of getting fired just a few days ago. His great moves, such as batting Ramon Hernandez cleanup and continuing to keep Luis Cruz in the lineup almost daily as his average remained sub-.150, and as he used Cruz, Dee Gordon (.175) and Justin Sellers (.195) as subs at shortstop for the injured Hanley Ramirez while he “saved” .300-hitting Nick Punto for perhaps the next injury substitution, coincided with the team’s race to oblivion. Rumors, leaks, supposition, all led Dodgers’ fans to the hopeful conclusion that our nightmare would soon end and that a REAL Major League Manager would soon be guiding the team.

But then one too many injuries occurred, and the horrible wrong of spring training, the failure to keep Yasiel Puig on the major league roster, was righted, and the rest may actually be history. In a mere two games, Puig has become the new Fernando in unbridled popularity, and the biggest Dodger’s phenom since Hideo Nomo averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings as he went 13-6 with a 2.54 ERA in 1995.

Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers, 3/15/2013
Yasiel Puig Graphic
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Playing right field and batting leadoff, Puig has turned Los Angeles, and MLB, on its ear, not just by going five-for-eight in his first two games, not just by hitting a three-run home run to tie up last night’s game, and not only by then hitting a seventh-inning two-run homer to win the game, but by his attitude, his smile, his speed, and his incredible arm that led to one error of enthusiasm and one unforgettable double play by making a catch in deep right then firing out Padre runner Chris Denorfia at first to end the game.

So, what does this mean? Puig has had a big hand in two wins since being called up. But, those wins were against the San Diego Padres, one of only a very few National League teams that one could argue are actually worse than LA, but yet a San Diego team that BEAT the Dodgers three in a row the last time they met. So, can Puig actually make a difference on an underachieving team without a real major league manager and with a plethora of injuries that has riddle both the pitching staff and the offense? We do not have to look too far back in history to find an answer.

A year and a month ago, the baseball world was similarly energized by the fabulous play of the Angels’ Mike Trout. Trout had a slow couple of weeks when recalled at the very end of April, but then was solid the rest of the season, as he compiled a rookie year for the ages, and almost immediately put his name into the conversation as to who is the best player in baseball, and in the process almost winning the MVP, on an underachieving team. And that is the point.

Trout played his first 2012 game on April 28. The Angels were 6-14 at that point and they went 83-59 the rest of the season, with Trout. That is a .585 winning percentage. Should the same type of miracle occur – should Puig be this year’s Mike Trout and continue to play outstanding baseball, at bat, in the field, on the bases, and in the dugout as Trout did last year (and since), and the team as a whole respond and play just as well as did the 2012 Angels for the rest of the season, a .585 pct. the rest of the season would mean a final 2013 record of 86-76 for the Dodgers. Like with the Angels a year ago, that record would get the team solidly out of the cellar, but still no where near the top of the division, and still out of any playoff possibility. Interestingly enough, 86-76 was the Dodgers’ final record last season.

Yasiel Puig is an exciting, dynamic young player with unlimited potential. Can he, or will he, make up for the massive problems the Dodgers’ faced three days ago, including injuries, a roster full of overpaid underachieving players, and the empty uniform in charge? The answer is a simple one: No. The rest of the season will be more exciting, yes, but unless and until mattingly is gone and some additional talented players take the field and put up the numbers they are paid to provide, the team is still destined to be an also ran.

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