A year ago, I called for the Dodgers to trade Yasiel Puig. I wanted him to leave town, take his bad attitude and antics to another city and stay far away from L.A. I was foolish enough to say all that and got grilled for doing so. Much to my surprise, Puig was that larger-than-life action hero in Saturday’s 8-5 victory in Game 2 of the National League Division Series that extended the Dodgers lead to 2-0.
With the sudden outbreak of blue fever, also known as Puigmania, it’s threatening to spread from the play yard to the Diamondbacks’ clubhouse. If the Dodgers go on to win this series, Puig’s teammates just might want to treat him to a night out for a few tequila shots. If he delivers the goods, as he has in these playoffs, it will be easier for him to forget his misfortunes.
At this time last year, Puig was hitless with two strikeouts in four games in the division series against Washington before amassing four hits in 13 at-bats to raise his postseason average in the championship series to .222 against the Cubs. The Cuban-born star had the game the Dodgers envisioned when he first broke out in the big leagues and showcased his raw power.
The stretches of dominance and postseason brilliance he has shown early on foreshadow his progress of self-discovery. Just like that, he regained his hitting stroke, and he has been playing a key role for a star-studded team. Regardless of whether he’s swinging at pitches harder than ever, or appears to be waiting for his pitches as a more patient hitter, Puig’s flamboyant playing style is the difference in the Dodgers’ offensive surge. So shrugging off Puig’s newfound success after his impatience and poor discipline in the past postseasons would be pure disrespect.
Last October, Puig would leave a dent in the Dodgers’ playoff hopes. This year, as we’ve seen in two consecutive games, he’s removed the dent in his maple bat and put the finishing touches on it. To say the label bum is affixed to his name is a bit of an understatement, even though he has not shown up much in October prior to this season. Say whatever you want about Puig, but he’s vital for the Dodgers as they have a chance to close out the series Monday night in Phoenix against ex-Dodger Zack Greinke. Like any good hitter, he’s not chasing pitches now like he used to and he’s putting the ball in play, with his increased effort that ratchets up his energy. That sense of urgency he’s playing with is finally there.
A night after his bat-licking and tongue-wagging stunt following his triple, Puig knocked in a run with a grounder to third that cut the Diamondbacks’ lead to 2-1 in the second inning. With a runner in scoring position, Puig flipped his bat on a bloop single to center that didn’t score a run in the fourth.
On a night when the Diamondbacks indispensable starter Robbie Ray got the nod, Puig went right after him. But in the fifth, after Austin Barnes had doubled and stolen third, Puig faced Arizona reliever Jimmy Sherfy and knocked in Barnes with an RBI single that stretched the lead to 7-2. With Puig on second, he was picked off and caught stealing.
Then, in the seventh, with a runner on first he hit a hot grounder down the third-base line that Jake Lamb could scarcely stop, much less make a play. Before the end of the frame, Chris Taylor hit a sharp grounder that went through shortstop Ketel Marte’s legs. It’s well established by now that Puig has at least redeemed himself, going 3-for-4 in Game 2 and driving in two. He is now 5-for-9 with a double, a triple and four RBIs in this series.
So not only might the Dodgers end up in the World Series, but at this rate, Puig might wind up taking home the MVP honors if they could prevail. It wasn’t long ago, not at all, that manager Dave Roberts benched him for two games. The first time he was kept out of the lineup for a base-stealing mishap that decided the game, and then again when he showed up late for batting practice.
In every at-bat, it seems, mechanically, and philosophically, he’s turned out to be wholly remarkable and, by glancing at his numbers, the 26-year-old batted .263/.346/.487, led the team with 152 games played, and set career highs in home runs with 28, stolen bases with 15 and reached base frequently on walks, a year after his declining play due to a pair of injury-plagued seasons in 2015-16, and then he was demoted to Triple-A last season. After teasing us with his golden glove in right —diving snags, basket grabs and leaping catches— he’s having quite some postseason.
For Puig, however, following a pair of excellent performances, he provides the pop in his bat that the Dodgers have lacked in the fall. And should he continue to stay hot, it might just be that he will pull the Dodgers’ wagon all the way to a championship.