MLB

The Dodgers Keep Winning, the Player Leading Their Charge Isn't Who You Think

Cincinnati Reds v Los Angeles Dodgers

Yasiel Puig. Yasiel Puig. Yasiel Puig. … For a while there in June it seemed as if the Cuban defector was the only player in baseball — and with good reason. Puig was (and still is) a one-man highlight reel. Witness the bat flip on his walk-off homer Sunday vs. the Reds.

The mighty Puig has cooled off from his white-hot debut in June, hitting only three homers however his last, which included a slide into home plate, was a walkoff.  Overall his July line is a .299/.361/.448 line, which many big leaguers would sign for. It’s just a huge drop from June when Puig slugged over .700 after his call-up, which inspired all sorts of Bo Jackson comparisons.

Yasiel-Puig-bat-flip-after-walkoff-against-RedsEven with Puig cooling down/the league adjusting to him, the Dodgers have kept on rolling. On June 21 Los Angeles was 12 games under .500 and on track for one of those “Worst Teams Money Can Buy” lists. Tuesday, as they prepare to welcome the Yankees to Chavez Ravine for a quick two-game series, the Dodgers are 2.5 games up on the Diamondbacks after going 9-1 in their last 10.

The key man responsible for the turnaround might not be Puig, but rather Hanley Ramirez. The shortstop began the season on the disabled list with a broken thumb. He came back on June 4, sat out a few games due to hamstring tightness and returned to the lineup full-time on June 12. In those games the Dodgers are 28-12, moving from last place on June 30 to first by July 22. In July Ramirez is posting a .375/.434/.667 line.

Of all the moves the free-spending Dodgers have made since the Magic Johnson-led consortium bought the club from Frank McCourt for $2 billion in May 2012, the Ramirez deal is looking like the savviest. The Dodgers might come to regret dealing Nathan Eovaldi and his fastball which averages over 96 mph since his call up in June, but Ramirez is locked up through 2014 at a reasonable $16 million.

It wasn’t that long ago when Ramirez was a viable No. 1 overall pick in a fantasy draft. His star faded in the last few seasons due to injuries and association with the woeful Marlins. Now he appears to be back to his 2007-09 levels, when he posted three straight seasons with an OPS over .940.

[RELATED: Yasiel Puig Danced & Gave Hyun-Jin Ryu a Celebratory Noogie After LA’s 5-Run 10th Inning]

The Dodgers pitching beyond Clayton Kershaw is still worrisome, even with the recent uptick from Zack Greinke. Los Angeles fans might still want to live up to their “leave early” reputation so long as Don Mattingly is giving the ball to Brandon League (5.17 ERA) in high-leverage late-inning spots.

One side thought for another day: is Kershaw on track to pull a Justin Verlander, winning both the Cy Young and MVP this season? Kershaw leads the National League in ERA, WHIP, Batting Average Against and is second to Matt Harvey in strikeouts. The only other MVP contenders you could make arguments for are Paul Goldschmidt, Carlos Gonzalez and maybe Carlos Beltran or Joey Votto. (File this away for a rainy day.)

Los Angeles, with or without Matt Kemp in the lineup, has emerged as a team which could push the Cardinals in the National League. Comparisons between the two might be apples and oranges at this point. St. Louis owns a sterling +127 run differential and has been a machine all season, meanwhile Los Angeles closes in at +9.

Should the two meet in October it would make for a fascinating five or seven-games series with the marquee players packing the Dodgers lineup matched up with the lesser-known Cardinal sluggers like Matt Carpenter, Allen Craig et al. This would be a terrific old-school Senior Circuit matchup and one that might actually draw solid television ratings as an added bonus.

Related: Brayan Pena Sprinted Around the Bases in Record Time After Smashing a Home Run [GIF]
Related: Yasiel Puig Made a Great Catch Crashing into the Wall in Toronto [Video]

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