Lovable Underdogs: Why the Los Angeles Dodgers are not “unbeatable”


March 4, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig (66) throws to the infield to complete an out in the third inning against the Seattle Mariners at Camelback Ranch. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

I read Ken Rosenthal’s piece, the one where he expressed his belief that the Los Angeles Dodgers are unbeatable this year. My knee-jerk reaction is, this fellow must be new to the game, to make such a far-fetched comment. Conventional wisdom dictates that everyone has a favorite team, and a few of those favorite teams actually have the rosters to compete, including the Dodgers. But to state that one team is unbeatable when stacked up against the competition, seems not only short-sighted, but downright foolhardy.

My main objection, besides the pompous attitude, is that it presumes that there will be no significant injuries, that Yasiel Puig will not dig himself-and his team-an insurmountable hole in the sand, and that everything will go perfectly according to plan, and that’s a lot to expect. What Rosenthal said exactly is, “If everyone loves an underdog, the rest of the NL West is eminently lovable. It’s just difficult to see the Dodgers as beatable, that’s all…In reality the rest of the West probably is just playing for wild cards.” I especially love the line about the rest of the NL West being lovable underdogs.

Take the San Francisco Giants, for instance; how lovable do you think the Detroit Tigers find the Giants? Or the Texas Rangers? You see, the Giants were World Series underdogs in both 2010 and 2012, but still somehow managed to eke out eight wins in nine attempts. I mean, I find the Giants lovable, as do millions in NorCal, but it still seems a rather odd moniker to affix to a team that not only has experience in these matters, but also a team that took eleven of nineteen against these same Dodgers last season. Talk about lovable!

I liken Rosenthal’s inept attempt to analyze the NL West, to that of a CEO of AnyCorporation, USA, who stands up and declares that “Research indicates our product to be the best that money can buy.” Of course, the only research conducted was done so around the corporate dinner table, with the results amazingly favorable to the head of the company. It’s diabolically simple to make broad, sweeping statements because anyone can do it, especially Ken Rosenthal.

As far as what he said, sure the Dodgers have excellent pitching; shoot, it’s the best money could buy! And Dodger Management has gone out and acquired a bevy of name-brand products, with which to plunder the rest of the National League. That being said, there is still one insignificant detail left with which to contend, actually playing out the season.

I know. I know. Don’t confuse the issue with any sort of logic. Much happens during the course of a 162-game season to set a team back, but Ken Rosenthal may not have gotten the memo. Injuries aside, let’s consider one player only on the Dodgers and that would be Yasiel Puig.

After they started the 2013 season abysmally, falling well off the pace, the Dodgers called up Puig in June. Joining the Dodgers, Puig hammered out more base-hits in his first month (44) than any rookie ever, except Joe DiMaggio. Unfortunately, Puig stood many long-time Dodger icons on their collective ear (Vin Scully, for starters) by acting like a diva, or a joker if you will.

So the Dodgers struggled the first two months, excelled during the center of the season, and then played, at best, above-average ball for the remainder of the season, being eliminated by the St. Louis Cardinals in the playoffs.

But after Puig’s dynamic sprint out the gate in June came the slump in July (the third through the twenty-second, .220 BA, .266 OBP in 15 games). Whereas during Puig’s first month, he chased 38% of pitches that were out of the strike-zone, while hitting at a
.316 clip for those pitches, during the mini-slump, Puig was even more aggressive, chasing 40% of pitches outside the strike zone, but missing 60% in his next fifteen games. Whereas this was problematical, even more so was the fact that he only batted .206 against pitches IN the strike zone, during the slump, more than 300 points lower than his first month.

If the Dodgers are counting on Yasiel Puig to take them to the Series, they are living dangerously and not just because of on-the-field behavior. First, Puig has weight issues, reporting to camp this spring 26 pounds heavier than when he vacated the premises in October. Second, Puig was arrested for the second time over the winter, this time for reckless driving in Florida, being cited for traveling at 110 MPH. Finally, Yasiel has yet to gain the respect of his peers, playing in a style heretofore unparalleled in major league baseball.

Style is fine and dandy; sporting the mustard is not, at least not until you pay your dues. Having a stupendous month when first called up does not qualify as paying your dues. Now, had Puig orchestrated a World Series championship, we would not be having this dialogue, because Ken Rosenthal’s claim would have some semblance of validity. Otherwise, whether the Dodgers win the division or not, is a moot point.

By Rosenthal’s own admission, “The rest of the NL West is just playing for wild cards,” as if drawing a wild card were some sort of booby prize. Well, I’m here to tell you that I’ll take the wild card, say the Jack of Hearts for instance, to get a crack at the playoffs. The Giants have a fixture behind the plate with more heart than any two Dodgers combined, in Buster Posey, so if we make it into the playoffs, I’ll take our Wild Card over their Joker and see who goes further in this year’s Grand Stakes Poker Game, known as the World Series.