LOS ANGELES – The three-hole hitter who hasn’t yet taken an at-bat was explaining his recovery from a wrist injury Tuesday afternoon when the three-hole hitter from a completely different era burst through the door.
“What’s going on?” Matt Kemp shouted.
Justin Turner — a full two months younger than Kemp, if that seems right — looked up with a grin.
“It ain’t even time for him to be back yet!” Kemp, still. “Get away from my locker!”
Today’s three-hole hitters — across nine games, going on two weeks — are batting .205 with no home runs and a .512 OPS for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and by “today’s three-hole hitters” we mean Yasiel Puig.
Course, the Dodgers had won only three of those nine games, and in the process of a fragmented, weird, clunky early defense of their National League pennant had for those games outscored the San Francisco Giants and that was it.
“He’ll be back!” Kemp, again. “He’s gonna save us!”
Turner turned his head and, under his breath, concluded, “Said no one.”
It was but nine games, and it wasn’t just Yasiel Puig, but Corey Seager, Chris Taylor, Logan Forsythe, Kike Hernandez and Joc Pederson too, among plenty of others, which can happen over 12 days, when there’s rain and injury and food poisoning and human frailty, which leads perhaps to over-swinging and crummy luck, which leads to a team on-base percentage of .285, better than the San Francisco Giants and that was it.
“Hey, you were checking out my Fruity Pebbles, weren’t you!” Kemp, on a roll. “You were checking out my Fruity Pebbles!”
Kemp reached down and, much to everyone’s relief, came back with a pair of sneakers dotted with reds and blues and greens …
“My Fruity Pebbles LeBrons!”
Then he went out and doubled off the right-field wall.
So there’s that time in the season when you narrow your eyes and think, what am I looking at here? And, does any of this make sense? And, why is the music so loud?
“You’re going to hear, ‘It’s early,’ for a little bit longer,” manager Dave Roberts said.
This is the team that by consensus will win 95 games. Or 100. Or however many it’s got left. It is not the team that added Yu Darvish or any of the other arms out there or Marcel Ozuna or Christian Yelich or Giancarlo Stanton, that could be saving up for Bryce Harper or Manny Machado or a Clayton Kershaw extension, that is pretty much riding the squad that got it to the second inning of Game 7 of the World Series.
That won’t have Turner back for maybe a month. That probably shouldn’t be this helpless down one guy, that probably won’t be for very long, that homered on two of the first seven pitches it saw Tuesday night against Oakland A’s lefty Sean Manaea, one each by Taylor and Seager.
So this is the part where the Dodgers reorganize their starting pitching, try to get that on some sort of schedule while Kershaw (who’ll go a week between starts) drums his fingers on the dugout rail, point Kenley Jansen in the right direction, and wait on the bats that helped carry them to help carry them again. April is still April, and average would not seem to suit the Dodgers. If it comes to that, the industry sense is the usual summer trading period will arrive earlier than in past summers. Too many good free agents are coming. Too many teams are tanking or otherwise not winning. The smart general managers of second-tier teams, the theory goes, will jump early on a buyer’s market, and the dozen or so contending teams will be eager to deal before prices rise in late July.
Maybe that’ll be the Dodgers. Maybe they’ll let this play for a bit, learn a little more about Taylor’s breakout season, Seager’s back, Bellinger’s OK-do-it-again season, Kemp’s revival, Chase Utley’s longevity, Turner’s wrist, Puig’s volatility, all of it, and become something … different.
You know, unless it all works anyway, exactly the way it is now.
“I’m not too worried about the ebbs and flows of a major league season,” Roberts said. “We haven’t played great.”
But, he added, “We still try to stay away from being results driven.”
Come Friday afternoon, when the Arizona Diamondbacks arrive, the Dodgers will have played four games in eight days, because the weather said so and the schedule said so. It’s led to fragmentation, weirdness and clunky-ness, to impatient at-bats and uneven results, and too few runs, and that’s either an early sign or an utter over-reaction, you’re allowed to decide for yourself. It’s what April is for.
“Now whose is this?” Kemp shouted, holding a first baseman’s mitt, new and stiff, face high.
Turner brought it in, he was told.
“Naw,” he said. “I’m not a first baseman. Yet.”
Then he went out and homered over the right-field wall.
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