While what I'd really like to do this afternoon is steer as far away from the Yasiel-Puig-is-a-bad-guy silliness as is humanly possible, let's give it the few paragraphs it deserves before moving on to the exhilarating play of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
That's Adrian Gonzalez in the photo above, surrounded by reporters earlier this season. The Dodgers' first baseman is universally-admired pretty much everywhere except in Boston, where all he contributed to the Red Sox cause was a .300 batting average and 194 RBIs in less than two season of play. He's an Hispanic player, who toiled in a difficult, if not highly combative media city, during a period of struggle for the home team.
A Boston Herald search for the term "clubhouse cancer" brings up 103 entries, most of them baseball-related. Gonzalez gets his fair share of mentions, as does another former-Bosox player, current-Dodger left fielder Carl Crawford, and even Hanley Ramirez, who made all of two plate appearances for the team before being traded to the Marlins in 2005, makes the list. The same search calls up a paltry 47 items in the Boston Globe, God bless them.
It's unfortunate -- and this type of generalizing about geography may bring me some grief, but frankly I just don't care -- but certain places in this country are more challenging -- more insensitive, perhaps -- than others, both for athletes and people of color. Boston is one. Arizona, where Puig faced some over-the-top criticism earlier this week, is too. "Intolerant" is another word that comes to mind.
Los Angeles has been feuding with the Diamondbacks for a couple of years now, and the nastiness from the likes of Miguel Montero no doubt stems from lingering feelings about Puig's participation in last month's brawl, but his team's three-game vanquishing at the hands of the rising Dodgers earlier this week may have added to the Arizona catcher's frustration.
As for Adrian Gonzalez, if the media in an eastern American League town wants to label him a clubhouse cancer, fine. Knock yourselves out, scribes. Both the Southern California community and the Los Angeles Dodgers are grateful to have him here, thank you very much. Maybe we can take this up again sometime in October.
My apologies for the condescension, but since it is not obvious to some in the media outside of L.A., Gonzalez handles the press with a degree of patience and skill that Puig cannot because he is bilingual and a 31-year-old veteran player. Puig is 22, does not speak English and is quite literally right off the boat. I'll leave you in the capable; nay, brilliant hands of YahooSports.com's Tim Brown for additional perspective on the Puig matter, and move onto actual, on-the-field, good-vibrations baseball now.
With win number 16 out of 19 games last night against Colorado -- their third this week by the score of 6-1 -- the Dodgers have moved over the .500 mark for the first time since they were 7-6 on April 15. They're a game and a half behind first-place Arizona, with three home games against the Rockies before the All-Star break, which begins Sunday night. And they are as hot as can be.
Clayton Kershaw takes the ball opposite Juan Nicasio tonight at 7:10 at the Ravine. Kersh leads the majors in earned run average at 1.89, in walks and hits per innings pitched (WHIP) at 0.90 and in wins above replacement (WAR) at 5.3. Translation? He's the best pitcher in baseball, and good luck to you, Mr. Nicasio. With two more victories this weekend, the Dodgers will have won seven straight series.
Zack Greinke will try to match his seven-shutout-innings Monday-in-Arizona performance as he faces Tyler Chatwood Saturday at 4:15 p.m. And Ricky Nolasco gets Jhoulys Chacin in the final game of the first half, Sunday at 1:10 p.m.
Carl Crawford is out tonight with back stiffness, with Skip Schumaker replacing him in left and in the leadoff role. The rest of the lineup is as usual, with Puig batting second, Gonzalez third and Ramirez fourth, followed by Andre Ethier, A.J. Ellis, Mark Ellis, Juan Uribe and Kershaw.
Given the available players it's a fine lineup, but a flip-flop of Hanley to the three spot and Gonzalez to cleanup would make it that much more compelling. Ramirez is his team's, and the sport's hottest hitter, batting a whopping .402/.458/.726, all of which leads Major League Baseball. You want your best hitter up in the first inning as a matter of course, and even more so the way Hanley's been going.
More importantly, unlike Gonzalez, who clogs up the base paths with his glacier-like speed, Ramirez runs well, and it's easier to score the latter than it is the former on almost any batted ball.
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Ramirez has been getting walked or pitched around with Ethier in front of him recently, and flip-flooping the three and four hitters, while not eliminating the possibility, certainly makes for a better matchup from L.A.'s point of you. You want to walk Hanley with Gonzalez behind him, Mr. Opposing Manager, be my guest. That should be Don Mattingly's choice to make available, and while I imagine he'll get around to it eventually, what's the point in waiting?
Gonzalez leads the team in homers with 14, RBIs with 58, and is hitting .302/.353/.491. Please excuse the obligatory "RBI machine" reference, but the Dodgers' current three man hits .319 with runners on bases, .338 with runners in scoring position (RISP), .400 with the bases loaded and .483 with RISP and two out, all but a third of all that being produced with Ramirez injured and on the disabled list. There's your cleanup hitter, everyone. Hanley needs to bat third.
That's my sermon for today. Enjoy your sports weekend. And remember, glove conquers all.