What's going on with the Dodgers?
The Trolley Dodgers are just one game above .500 and in third place in the National League West. That's not exactly where this powerhouse of talent and money expected itself to be 45 games into the season. Los Angeles is struggling. That's what you call it when Don Mattingly has to use catcher Drew Butera as a mop-up man during two games in the same week.
Certainly offense hasn't been the problem for the Dodgers so far. The team's 192 runs are third most in the NL behind Colorado and Miami (yes, Miami), and it is getting what it needs from star players like Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez as well as role players like Juan Uribe and Dee Gordon. Star pitcher Clayton Kershaw has struggled with both health and performance, but that's been countered by the strong veteran trio of Dan Haren, Josh Beckett, and Zack Greinke.
The biggest issue for the Dodgers has been the part of baseball that is historically the toughest to predict. That's relief pitching. Kenley Jansen, Chris Perez, and Brian Wilson were supposed to be a solid bridge to victory, but instead they've been shaky at best. The lowest ERA between the three is Jansen's 4.34 mark.
Still, if you look around at the individuals on this team, it should be better than what it is right now. The Giants and Rockies are hot out west, but it should only be a matter of time before these Dodgers allow their talent to really shine. Let's hope they wait until they get out of New York to do that.
Who are these guys?
You probably know who Yasiel Puig is by now, but I thought he deserved his own paragraph. We see so many highlights of him doing Puig things like making incredible throws and jumping into walls that it's easy to forget just how good the kid has become. More of a circus act than a baseball player a year ago, he's transformed into the Dodgers' most valuable player so far in 2014. Puig is striking out three percent less than he was last season, and he's walking two percent more often. His .367 BABIP is curious, but he's never had one below .339 as a professional. Instead, just focus on the .411 on-base percentage and the .263 isolated power and you'll see a bona fide star in the making.
Flying below Puig on the national radar is Gordon, who last year was banished to Triple-A Albuquerque while fans were left wondering if he would ever hit enough to stick in a major league lineup. It's still too early to pass judgement on Gordon, but so far he's been everything we were hoping Billy Hamilton would be this year. His walk rate is down from last year, but he's making harder contact, which has turned into a respectable .304/.344/.404 line. That's more than enough when you have the speed to steal 25 bases in a quarter of a season. According to fWAR, Gordon has been Los Angeles's best position player behind Puig in 2014.
Who's on the mound?
Tuesday: Josh Beckett vs. Rafael Montero
After missing most of last season with a nerve condition known as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, Beckett is back in 2014 and the freshly minted 34-year-old is giving the Dodgers some rotation depth that they've needed with both Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu serving time on the disabled list this year. What's helped Beckett maintain a 2.38 ERA in seven starts so far is that he's throwing less fastballs and more curves than he has in the past. That's consistent with the idea that aging pitchers need to get "craftier," and Becket is striking out 8.64 batters per nine, his highest rate since 2008. A .226 BABIP probably means that this isn't a total fairy tale season for Beckett, but so far, so good.
The same can be said for Montero, who was as good as the Mets could have asked for in his major league debut last week. The 23-year-old had three strikeouts, two walks, and three runs allowed in six innings against the Yankees. That wasn't good enough to match up to Masahiro Tanaka, but if Montero can put up similar numbers against a challenging Dodgers lineup, Mets fans would probably be happy.
Wednesday: Hyun-Jin Ryu vs. Jacob deGrom
Making his first start alongside Montero last week was deGrom. As a player drafted out of college, he's a little older and more experienced than Montero, and maybe that's why he was more successful in his debut despite having a similar control-first profile. deGrom limited the Yankees to just a run in seven innings while showing off his great command and even better hair.
After missing three starts due to shoulder inflammation, Ryu is returning to the Dodgers' rotation on Wednesday, and he's rescuing the Dodgers' fans from having to watch another Paul Maholm outing. The exchange of lefties is not a good one for the Mets, as Ryu has proven to be more than a capable MLB starter over the past year. Last season's modest 19.7-percent strikeout rate was boosted by solid control and a ground ball rate just above 50 percent. So far in 2014, it's been much of the same for Ryu, although he had just nine strikeouts total in the three starts before his DL stint.
Thursday: Zack Greinke vs. Jon Niese
Since winning the Cy Young and posted a 9.1 fWAR in 2009, Greinke has struggled to return to the glory of being a top-tier starter. Sure, he will probably never see 9.1 fWAR again, but getting back in the annual Cy Young discussion would be nice for the volatile right-hander. He's bounced around between different leagues and teams since 2010, but now Greinke has more or less settled in Los Angeles for the foreseeable future. In 2014, he's at least temporarily taken over as the Dodgers' ace with a blistering 10.29 strikeouts per nine and just 2.03 walks per nine. Even with a .296 BABIP against him, Greinke's 94-percent strand rate has helped him post a 2.03 ERA. For someone like yours truly who swoons over Greinke in fantasy baseball, this is a welcome development.
Something that has been a welcome development for all Mets fans has been the consistency of Niese's play this season. Last Friday, the you-know-what finally hit the fan for him in Washington, but he shouldn't have trouble getting back to being the efficient strike-thrower that he's shown he can be. With the way he has pitched in 2014, it's pretty amazing that the Mets have Niese signed for under $12 million per year until 2019. That contract makes the lefty a great value no matter whether the Mets decide to keep him or deal him.
Prediction: The Mets win just one out of three against a talented trio of starters.
What about some GIFs?
Just because the Dodgers are in third place doesn't mean they're not having fun! Here's Puig making fun of Gonzalez running home from second base.
Later, Gonzalez and Juan Uribe turned Puig into a human bobblehead doll.
Puig is so athletic that his near misses are almost as spectacular as the plays he makes.