Can one player spark an entire team? The Dodgers and Nationals are going to find out.
The Angels were transformed the moment Mike Trout stepped on the field last season. They were 6-14 without him, 83-59 with him. Trout was baseball’s best player for those 142 games, and he almost led the Angels to an improbable playoff sprint.
The Dodgers are 2-0 since calling up 22-year-old Yasiel Puig. He’s 5 for 8 with a pair of home runs and has shown off a dazzling throwing arm. Just as important is the fact that he has played with such joy and enthusiasm that it has to rub off on others.
The Dodgers could use some excitement, having performed like a team burdened by expectations. If joyless is not quite a fair description of how they’ve played, it’s not that far off, either.
This team has a chance. Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke at the top of the rotation. Carl Crawford at the top of the lineup. Matt Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez in the middle. At some point this season, they still can be the team plenty of us thought they’d be.
They’re lucky that no team has sprinted away from the pack in the NL West. The Giants have scuffled. The Diamondbacks have been solid. The Rockies have been surprising. The Padres are getting close. But the Dodgers still have a chance even after spending the last month in last place.
The Nationals like the sound of that idea. So GM Mike Rizzo attempted to shake up his underachieving team by giving a uniform to his best prospect, Anthony Rendon, the sixth pick of the 2011 draft, a hitting machine. He’s probably going to play second base because the starter at that spot, Danny Espinosa, a clubhouse leader, is injured and not hitting.
Rizzo has resisted that type of change, hoping the Nationals would get things figured out. But with Bryce Harper on the Disabled List and Stephen Strasburg hurt, and the Nationals 7 games behind the Braves in the NL East, Rizzo would wait no longer.