With the Dodgers off to another middling start at 14-12, what stands out like a sore Hanley Ramirez thumb is equal parts incompetence and inspiration.
While L.A.'s awful defense and Don Mattingly's confounding late-inning chess play have been predictable (I've found that bracing for disappointment works to dull the pain), the lack of production from the outfielders and the complete inability of the catching corps to hit like major leaguers are new issues.
But, on the bright side, let us celebrate the club's fine starting pitching, led by Zack Greinke (4-0, 2.45 ERA, .99 WHIP and 40 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings), who has been every bit the ace in Clayton Kershaw's absence, Adrian Gonzalez' hitting (.313, eight home runs, 23 RBIs) and the all-around play of second baseman Dee Gordon.
There simply is no diminishing what amounts to the complete transformation of a player right before our eyes. Where there was recently a skittish, frustratingly error-prone shortstop, now stands a solid, confident second baseman. What's especially impressive about Dee Gordon's development is that he has found a way to improve in so many key skill sets all at the same time.
With only a few weeks under his belt at a new position Gordon is making the routine plays as well as the difficult ones. He moves naturally around the bag, turns the double play like a more experienced second baseman and works well with shortstop Ramirez. Gordon's bunting skills are night-and-day better than before. He's hitting the ball on the ground and on a line with greater frequency. And perhaps most importantly, he is stealing bases with increased efficiency.
Prior to this season Gordon was successful on an even 80 percent of his stolen base attempts, with a 77 percent six-year history in the minor leagues. In 2014, he's at 93, a percentage which leads baseball (among men with at least eight thefts), as does his 13 steals.
He turns routine ground balls into bang-bang plays, he actually doubled on a grounder to second last week, and is a threat to wind up at third on almost any well-struck ball to the outfield. Speed without smarts and savvy won't do it. There have been countless ballplayers blessed with great wheels who could not master the art of base running. It's about quickness and technique and swift, if not instantaneous decision making, all of which are on display on an almost nightly basis this season with Dee Gordon. It's been fun to watch. Inspiring, actually.
Of course, Mr. Gordon is not going to hit .353/.385/.482 deep into summer, but he very well might manage something in the neighborhood of .285/.350/.375, which is more than Los Angeles could have hoped for at season's start.
Is Gordon a flash in the pan or a young veteran on the on the precipice of All-Star status, following in the footsteps of Dodgers' running stars Maury Wills, Willie Davis and Davey Lopes? More will be revealed, obviously, but I'm inclined to lean toward the latter rather than the former.
A special request is order, however: Please Dee, find an alternative to the often unnecessary and increasingly-dangerous head-first slide into bases, and allow your growing fan base to breathe a little easier.
And remember, glove conquers all.