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Yasiel Puig leads NL Outfielders in All Star Voting

Yasiel Puig Dodgers MVP

PUIG

After a massive jump that leaped him from fifth place to first place, Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig now leads all National League outfielders in All-Star voting. Aided by an extended Dodgers home stand Puig leapfrogged Charlie Blackmon and Giancarlo Stanton to take over the lead among outfielders for the 2014 All-Star Game, to be held July 15 at Target Field in Minneapolis. The increase in vote totals is indicative of the rising popularity of the second year outfielder, who’s improved on his outstanding rookie season with a tremendous sophomore effort. On Tuesday Puig marked the one-year anniversary of his major league debut, where he took the Dodgers and major league baseball by storm to vault Los Angeles to the National League West crown. Like a year ago the Dodgers are hoping for the same kind of resurgence as they have ground to make up in the division. The Dodgers are in second place, a full seven games behind the San Francisco Giants who currently have the top record in baseball. Los Angeles is in a tight battle with the Colorado Rockies, who feature the top overall NL vote getter, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.

This season Puig has significantly raised his batting average, on base percentage and OPS, displaying Mike Trout like maturity at the plate. His Cuban exodus story is well documented and his evolution as a player is remarkable considering how little baseball he was able to play for two seasons while trying to leave Cuba. Last season Puig had 36 walks and 97 strikeouts in 432 plate appearances. This season, in just 242 plate appearances Puig already has 27 walks and has struck out just 44 times. Last season there was great debate about whether or not Puig was a worthy all star candidate after spending just six weeks in the big leagues. This season there is no such debate.

Dodgers Yaseil Puig

MVP?

After a defeat to the Chicago White Sox where they scored just a lone run, the Dodgers continued their offensive struggles. While Puig is putting together an MVP-caliber season the remainder of the Dodgers core, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp, are struggling of late. Dee Gordon, who got off to a tremendous start as the leadoff hitter, is in an extended slump. The club also is missing third baseman Juan Uribe, with Chone Figgins forced to fill in everyday at third base. AJ Ellis, who suffered an ankle sprain in the post- Josh Beckett no-hitter celebration, is also out of the lineup, with Drew Butera batting just .218 as the backup catcher.

The Dodgers have one game remaining on the current home stand before they head off on a ten game road trip that takes them to Colorado, Cincinnati and Arizona. Getting away from Dodger Stadium, where they are just 13-18 on the season, may ignite their year. Over the years Coors Field in Colorado has been a great slump buster for many Dodgers players, and the Dodgers have had their way with the Arizona Diamondbacks lately.

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Puig for MVP?

Yasiel Puig Dodgers MVP

PUIG

During his remarkable rookie run in 2013 many wondered if Yasiel Puig should have been an MVP candidate. The Dodgers amazing run of play, in which they won 50 of 70 games, coincided with the promotion of Puig to the big league roster. His incredible talent, enthusiasm and fire was a major catalyst in the Dodgers run, along with the performance of Hanley Ramirez and the Dodgers elite pitching staff. Puig eventually cooled down towards the end of the season, but his performance was one of the biggest stories in all of baseball.

During the offseason and spring training the big stories about Puig was related to off the field issues like traffic offenses and the amazing story of his exit from Cuba. For all of the success Puig was having on the field there were still question marks about how the young star approaches the game, his tendency for make errors on the base paths and his approach to the game. When the Dodgers opened the season in Australia first baseman Adrian Gonzalez purportedly took Puig aside to challenge him to improve multiple areas of his game. Some of the indiscretions of Puig, led some baseball analysts to question whether or not Puig would continue his ascension to superstardom.

Dodgers Puig MVP

PUIG

Well, what a difference a month makes. Six weeks into the season Puig is arguably the best player in the National League, with numbers that rival those put together by fellow Southern California star Mike Trout during his first two seasons. While the Dodgers are in third place and struggling to keep pace with the Giants in the division, Puig is playing like an MVP. His combination of speed and power has ignited the top of the Dodgers lineup, along with second baseman Dee Gordon. Forty-three games into the season Puig has demonstrated better patience at the plate, and is in the midst of a fifteen game hitting streak. Puig leads the Dodgers with a .333 average, 33 runs batted in, a .422 OBP and a tremendous 1.012 OPS. Like a true MVP candidate Puig has shined with runners on base. With runners in scoring position Puig is hitting .408 with 28 RBI. With two outs and runners in scoring position Puig’s average rises to .455 with 18 RBI.

Can Puig win the MVP?

Dodgers Yaseil Puig

MVP?

From a sheer performance standpoint he should be a top candidate. The key is whether or not the Dodgers get out of their early season doldrums. The Dodgers poor record is a bit of a mystery considering the individual position areas have performed well. The bullpen has struggled at times, blowing some late game and extra innings lead, but that should turn around. The Giants have started strong but as spring turns into summer the Dodgers should heat up and make their run towards the top of the National League West.

Puig will have stiff competition from players like Troy Tulowitzki, Giancarlo Stanton and fellow Dodger Adrian Gonzalez. Tulowitzki and Stanton, who have led their respective teams to surprising starts, are the top two candidates so far. The Marlins and Rockies will likely fall back to the pack while the Dodgers should contend. If Puig can continue his impressive numbers he should be right in the thick of the MVP conversation.

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The Return of Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw Returns

Clayton Kershaw

The Dodgers welcomed back Clayton Kershaw on Tuesday night, just at the right time. In the midst of an extended road trip that included trips to Minnesota, Miami and Washington, the Dodgers find themselves in third place in a rejuvenated NL West. After a dominating season in 2013 that included a big margin of victory in the division over the second place Diamondbacks, the Dodgers find themselves fending off an improved San Francisco Giants team.

Kershaw pitched for the first time since the Dodgers kicked off the season Down Under in Australia. The two-time Cy Young winner dominated the Diamondbacks in Sydney and after six weeks off he showed the same form he had in late March. Kershaw tossed seven shutout innings, striking out nine and walking none, throwing just 89 pitches. The best Dodgers lefty since Fernando and Koufax returned just at the right time, to jump right into a division battle with the Giants.

San Francisco is off to a hot start with record of 21-12, currently the second best record in all of baseball. The Giants have won nine of their last eleven games. Their pattern of winning in every even numbered year is taking shape again. The Dodgers are currently 2.5 games behind the Giants and a big part of that advantage can be traced back to their success versus Los Angeles. The Giants have won four of six versus the Dodgers this season, taking two of three in the two series they’ve played.

CK Dodgers Pitcher

CLAYTON

After the Dodgers wrap up in Washington they’ll return home and jump right back into the rivalry as the Dodgers host the Giants in a four-game series. They’ll get a bit of a break since the Giants have put ace Matt Cain on the DL due to a cut on his ring finger. Josh Beckett and Paul Maholm will start the opening two games, with the Dodgers aces Zack Greinke and Kershaw starting games three and four. If Los Angeles can get off to a quick start and win one or two of the first two games they’ll be in position to win the series and start to build back momentum versus San Francisco. Maholm was due to move back to the bullpen when Kershaw returned, but the sudden injury to Ryu has kept the veteran lefty in the rotation for the time being. Beckett, coming off multiple injuries, doesn’t have a victory to show for it, but has pitched well this season. He currently sports a 3.14 ERA and has given up just 20 hits in 28 innings pitched while striking out 30. His solid secondary numbers, combined with the solid seasons that Haren is putting together, bodes well for the Dodgers near-term future.

Success versus San Francisco will require the Dodgers bats wake up a bit as well. While the offense has performed in spurts this season, they’ve also struggled at times. Adrian Gonzalez, Dee Gordon, Juan Urible and Yasiel Puig are having outstanding years and have carried the Dodgers offensively. Conversely, Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford have largely struggled. Ramirez, arguably the Dodgers best hitter, will come around. The bigger question marks surround Kemp and Crawford and whether or not they can regain their past All-Star form.

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KERSHAW

Tuesday night the offense broke through at the right time with the top five in the lineup all collecting two hits. Hanley Ramirez homered and drove in two runs, with reserve catcher Drew Butera hitting a three-run home run. A win in the series finale on Wednesday would give the Dodgers a series victory, a 6-3 road trip, and real momentum for the upcoming home stand that starts with the Giants.

For Clayton Kershaw the quest for a third Cy Young starts again. He has his work cut out for him to catch up to the top contenders, including Zack Greinke, but with a near flawless first start back from injury he’s off to a good start.

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Diamondbacks Drop Five to the Dodgers

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It was another successful weekend in Phoenix for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who ran their record versus the Arizona Diamondbacks to a perfect 5-0. The victory gave the Dodgers a 9-4 record and first place in the National League West. The loss sent the reeling Diamondbacks to 4-11 and last place in the division. For a season that started with big expectations the Diamondbacks have the look of a potential 90 loss team. With the San Francisco Giants having the look of contenders once again the Diamondbacks will face an uphill battle in the division. The Diamondbacks have the New York Mets coming into town, with three must win games, before they head back to Los Angeles to face the Dodgers in an extremely important weekend series. If the Diamondbacks struggles continue manager Kirk Gibson may find himself on the hot seat.

The three game sweep was marked by solid pitching by the Dodgers, specifically Hyun-Jin Ryu, and an offensive tear by first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. The Dodgers first baseman hit another home run on Sunday, a tape measure shot, giving him five on the season. Gonzalez has now hit twenty-seven home runs at Chase Field, tops among visiting players. Gonzalez, in a performance that will surely win him National League Player of the Week, hit three home runs and drove in ten during the weekend series. The Dodgers outscored the Diamondbacks 22-11 over the three game series.

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The Dodgers roughed up the Diamondbacks pitching staff, a common occurrence this season. After losing Patrick Corbin to Tommy John surgery during spring training the Diamondbacks are moving forward without their ace. Fellow starters Wade Miley and Trevor Cahill have been pedestrian at best, leaving a huge hole in the Diamondbacks rotation. The Diamondbacks pitching struggles are confounded by the fact that they traded young lefthander Tyler Skaggs to the Los Angeles Angels as part of the Mark Trumbo trade. A move designed to add power to the roster, Trumbo’s acquisition came at a high cost. The Diamondbacks traded two of their top three prospects, Adam Eaton and Skaggs for Trumbo. The big power hitter had a strong start to the season before cooling off over the weekend. He has tremendous power numbers, but is a marginal player at best on defense. Eaton is off to a strong start in Chicago, hitting .354 with nine runs batted in, while Skaggs has put together two solid starts with the Angels, giving up just four earned runs in fifteen innings pitched. Arizona then traded third base prospect Matt Davidson, off to a strong start in Chicago, for White Sox closer Addison Reed. Reed is a solid young closer, but in the long run giving up Davidson may turn out to be a mistake.

The moves were predicated on the belief that the Diamondbacks are a contender this season, a belief held by GM Kevin Towers and the rest of the Diamondbacks front office. The truth is the Diamondbacks are at best a .500 team (which they have been each of the past two seasons), who just lost their top starting pitcher. With an inconsistent batting lineup, a middle-of-the-road starting rotation and a league average at best bullpen the Diamondbacks could be in for a long season. This past weekend was another reminder of the uphill battle the club continues to face in Phoenix. The weekend crowds were large, but that included a massive number of Dodgers fans. Judging by the applause of the fans it was difficult to tell at times who the home team was.

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Arizona will head to Los Angeles next weekend needing to turn things around versus the Dodgers. Arizona had their way with the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium in 2013, largely due to the performance of slugger Paul Goldschmidt. Since then the series has been extremely one-sided. If the Dodgers manage another convincing series win next weekend you have to wonder if manager Kirk Gibson could be on the hot seat.

NLCS Preview Los Angeles Dodgers Vs St Louis Cadinals

NLCS Dodgers Vs Cardinals

Dodgers Vs Cardinals

With the St. Louis Cardinals defeat of the Pittsburgh Pirates the National League Championship is set and will begin Friday at Busch Stadium in St. Louis with the Cardinals taking on the Los Angeles Dodgers. Down 2-1 in the NLDS the Cardinals won consecutive elimination games behind dominant starting pitching by Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright. The matchup between two of the most storied franchises in all of baseball is the first postseason series between the two clubs since the Dodgers swept the Cardinals in the 2009 NLDS. The two franchises boast seventeen combined World Series titles, with the Cardinals second all-time with eleven.

Here are three things to watch in the NLCS:

Elite Starting Pitching: The Los Angeles Dodgers boast arguably the top 1-2 pitching combination in all of baseball in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. The Dodgers twenty-five year-old lefthander Kershaw is the odds on favorite to earn his second Cy Young Award in four seasons.  Greinke, who the Dodgers acquired via free agency this offseason, has long been one of the dominant right-handers in the game and won 15 games this season against only four defeats with an outstanding 2.63 ERA.  In the Dodgers 3-1 series victory over the Braves in the NLDS Kershaw had two outstanding starts, striking out 18 batters in just thirteen innings pitched with just one earned run given up. Due to the Dodgers decision to start Kershaw in game four of the Braves series the Dodgers will start Greinke in game one, followed by Kershaw on Saturday.

The Cardinals have their own trio of outstanding starters in veteran ace Adam Wainwright and rookie Michael Wacha. Wainwright closed out the Pittsburgh series with a dominating start in game five. He’s joined in the rotation by Wacha who pitched seven perfect innings in Pittsburgh in game four before giving up a solo home run in the seventh inning. Wacha exited the game with just one hit allowed and one earned run in an incredibly boisterous road environment.  The twenty-one year- old was a late call-up who nearly pitched a perfect game during the regular season. The remainder of the Cardinals postseason roster is to be determined, with a choice between Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller.

The Season Series: The Dodgers took five of seven from the Cardinals this season including taking three of four in St. Louis in early August.  In the August series the Dodgers received outstanding starting performances from Ricky Nolasco, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Zack Greinke.  Ironically the lone Cardinals victory was the one game started by Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw gave up just two earned runs but the Dodgers were unable to provide their starter much run support, ending the Dodgers club record fifteen game road winning streak. In the first game of the series Greinke out-dueled Wainwright in a tight battle.

For the Dodgers to prevail they’ll need Nolasco and Ryu to recapture the form they showed during the late summer Dodgers hot streak. After being acquired by the Dodgers from the Marlins Nolasco was outstanding, but struggled at the end of the season, perhaps due to throwing so many innings this season. Ryu, the Korean rookie, had a strong regular season but struggled in game three of the Braves series. The playoff schedule may allow the Dodgers to go with a three-man rotation, but it’s likely they’ll have to start Nolasco in game four back in Los Angeles.  They’ll need the right-hander to recapture the form he showed right after his acquisition.

The Cardinals Lineup:  The Cardinals don’t have the superstar they once had in Albert Pujols, but do have one of the deepest and most efficient batting lineups in baseball. The Cardinals are third in baseball in runs scored and on base percentage and fourth in batting average. The Cardinals had five players drive in at least seventy-five runs this season, with four regulars batting over .300. Second Baseman Matt Carpenter led the NL in hits, batting .318. Superstar catcher Yadier Molina hit .319 with 80 runs batted in.  Molina is on track for his seventh gold glove. Allen Craig led the National League in batting average with runners in scoring position, hitting .315 with 97 runs batted in. Both Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran hit near .300 with between 22 and 24 home runs and 80 runs batted in. The Cardinals lineup will be a big challenge to the Dodgers pitching staff. One bright spot for the Dodgers is the Cardinals inconsistent offensive showing in the NLDS.  After leading the Cardinals all season in batting Carpenter hit just .067 in the NLDS with David Freese, Matt Holliday and John Jay also struggling at the plate.

The biggest key to victory for the Dodgers is getting off to a strong start in St. Louis, just like in Atlanta. If Greinke and Kershaw can be their dominant self the Dodgers have a strong opportunity to reclaim home field advantage upon their return to Los Angeles. The Cardinals are a battle tested club with significant postseason experience.  The spotlight won’t be too big for them and the Dodgers will face a hostile environment this weekend in St. Louis. With Wainwright starting game five the Dodgers have the luxury of avoiding the Cardinals ace in St. Louis. Wainwright will likely start game three in Los Angeles. The Cardinals game one and two starters are still to be announced but likely will be either Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller or Lance Lynn in game one and Michael Wacha in game two. Lynn struggled in game two versus the Pirates and Kelly and Miller both have very little postseason experience. The veteran Dodgers club may have an advantage versus the very young Cardinals rotation as the pressure gets ramped up even more in the NLCS.

Prediction: The Dodgers ride Kershaw and Greinke into the World Series, out-dueling the young Cardinals rotation. Dodgers win 4-2.

By:Chris Michaels