The Los Angeles Dodgers’ first two official regular season games of the 2014 season were played approximately 7,500 miles away from Dodger Stadium and were only watched on television by a (small) minority of Dodgers fans, but the Dodgers will happily take their 2-0 record and switch back to Spring Training mode this weekend for their pre-season tune-up Freeway Series against the Angels of Anaheim. They will then carry their 2-0 record into their next official regular season game on Sunday, March 30th in San Diego.
Unfortunately, since returning to Southern California, the Dodgers have been hit by a cavalcade of bad news (in chronological order): 1) Yasiel Puig’s maturity was called into question again after two base-running blunders in Australia, leading to a team meeting called by Manager Don Mattingly, 2) Hyun-jin Ryu split open the nail on his right big toe during his start in Australia and he may have to miss his next start, 3) Alexander Guerrero was deemed not ready to play with the major league club and optioned to Triple-A Albuquerque, and 4) Clayton Kershaw has inflammation in a muscle in his back and will not be able to start the Dodgers’ first regular season game in the U.S. on Sunday in San Diego. In the back-drop of all of this bad news, most Dodgers fans still won’t be able to watch any of their games on television this season (unless the games are nationally televised or they purchase MLB TV in order to watch road games). So much for all of the excitement heading into this season, right?
While in Australia, the Dodgers actually started the regular season off on the right track (for the most part). In their first game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Kershaw went a strong 6.2 innings, only allowing one earned run on five hits, striking out seven and walking only one batter. Scott Van Slyke, starting in left field with Carl Crawford on paternity leave, lined a ball just over the right field wall for a two-run home-run in the fourth inning, and that made the difference in a 3-1 Dodgers victory.
In the second game against the Diamondbacks, Ryu went five solid innings, allowing no runs, two hits, striking out five, and walking only one batter. The Dodgers took a 7-0 lead into the eighth inning, with Andre Ethier, Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez, Juan Uribe, and Dee Gordon all driving in runs. Gordon, Puig, and Uribe each had three hits. To make things interesting (and to get under Mattingly’s skin), the Dodgers’ bullpen gave up a run in the eighth, and four more in the ninth, until Kenley Jansen was able to shut the door on the Diamondbacks.
The Dodgers flew back from Sydney, and most of the news since has been pretty bad. First, Mattingly had to sit down and talk to Puig (in front of the entire team) about two glaring base-running mistakes (trying to stretch a single into a double, and trying to steal third after a ball barely trickled away from Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero) he made in the second game (leading to outs), as well as about the fact that he didn’t return to the field in the bottom of the ninth inning after striking out in the top of the ninth and apparently tweaking his back. As we alluded to during the off-season, the Dodgers’ present AND future will be determined in large part by whether or not Puig can mature this season and become more of a leader. Making two really poor decisions on the base-paths (very similar to the types of poor decisions he was making last season) and asking out of a game in the ninth inning because of an apparently minor back tweak is certainly not an encouraging development on that front. Reports indicated that the meeting was productive, and has always been the case in the past, Puig was open to constructive criticism and vowed to keep working to improve.
While Crawford was reinstated from paternity leave, and Matt Kemp appears to be getting closer to being ready for game action, the Dodgers received concerning news about Ryu and Kershaw. While neither pitcher is expected to go on the disabled list, they will both miss their next starts, respectively. Ryu’s injury is relatively minor, but having a split nail on his right big toe would certainly affect his ability to pitch, and he could need at least a week or two to recover. Kershaw’s injury, too, seems relatively minor, but any type of back injury, whether structural or muscle-related (as this one is), could pose serious long-term issues if not properly handled. The Dodgers believe that he should only have to miss one start, but there’s no way that they will take any chances with Kershaw’s long-term health. If he has to miss a second start, that would probably be a wise decision. If nothing else, the Dodgers will have to make use of a healthy Josh Beckett, and newcomer Paul Maholm, while Ryu and Kershaw recover. In one bit of good news, Zack Greinke appears to have fully recovered from his calf injury, and will be ready to start one of the Dodgers’ opening games in San Diego.
As for Alexander Guerrero, most observers expected that he would be the Dodgers’ opening day starting second-baseman, given his 4-year, $28 million contract, as well as his age (27), and significant experience playing in Cuba. Unfortunately, his defense at second base has been a work in progress (at best), and the Dodgers don’t yet trust him in the field. So for now, the Dodgers will platoon newcomer Justin Turner and probably their only true post-hype sleeper, Dee Gordon. Gordon actually appears to have made some positive strides on defense (having moved over from shortstop), as well as at the plate, and with his blazing speed, he could be a very useful addition to the every-day line-up (whether he starts or is used in some games as a pinch-hitter/runner).
While the Dodgers sort through these early-season issues, fans continue to play the waiting game with the Timer Warner television deal saga. Dodgers President Stan Kasten said this week that he’s “disappointed” that deals haven’t been closed yet to bring SportsNet LA to all of the major cable providers, and that he’s now concerned that some (or even many) fans will not be able to watch games for at least a portion (if not all) of this season. In other words, despite all of the excitement and optimism surrounding the Dodgers’ 2014 season–probably the most optimism and excitement fans have had in nearly 20 years– fans will ironically be kept from watching the games on television.
So (some) good news, but mainly bad news for the Dodgers thus far. Of course, as long as they continue to win games, that’s all that really matters, but any continued injury issues could set them back, just like they did last year. Hopefully, the team will be at close to full health within the next two weeks, and deals can start to be worked out to allow Dodgers fans to watch their games, so by the time May rolls around, everyone can go back to the excitement and optimism that was built, and saved up, all off-season. Otherwise…well, let’s just enjoy that optimistic outlook a little longer before considering the alternative…