1. Joe Blanton has been lights out
It’s not that Joe Blanton had a bad year last year. In fact, Joe Blanton might have been one of the best relievers in the bigs last season for the Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates. He only pitched in 36 total games but he racked up 76 innings pitched and finished the season with 2.84 ERA. Even more impressive was the fact that in his time with Pittsburgh he finished with a 1.57 ERA giving up only 6 runs in 34.1 innings pitched.
However, Blanton did not pitch a single inning in 2014, had an ERA over 6.00 in 2013, and in his last stint with the Dodgers in 2013 had an ERA of nearly 5.00. It only made sense that Dodgers fans were skeptical of the Joe Blanton signing this offseason and whether he could repeat his recent success going into his age 35 season.
It may be early but so far Joe Blanton has silenced the doubters. In 8 games this season, Blanton has given up only 1 total run on a solo home run by Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford. Unfortunately for Blanton, the one bad pitch of his season led to the Dodgers losing a brilliant outing and near no hitter from rookie pitcher Ross Stripling but other than that it has been smooth sailing. In fact, Blanton’s 1.08 ERA on the season is 4th best on the team behind only Maeda, Liberatore, and Jansen. Whether Blanton can keep this up all season has yet to be seen, but so far Friedman & Co. are looking pretty smart for signing the comeback player.
2. Yasiel Puig has become an ideal teammate
There have been three consistent things over the last three seasons: Clayton Kershaw, Adrian Gonzalez, and Yasiel Puig. Two of those three have been consistently good with Kershaw being a perennial Cy Young candidate and Gonzalez hitting 90+ RBI every year. Puig, on the other hand, has consistently been a distraction for the team. Whether Puig has been angering his teammates on bus trips or getting arrested for reckless driving, he has consistently found ways to bring the team down.
Although we are only 20 games into the 2016, Puig has seemingly become a new man. Not only has Puig brought a new approach to hitting with 1 home run, 3 doubles, 2 triples and a slash line of .294/.368/.441, he has also done a complete 180 and has become the ideal citizen and teammate. For example, just a few days ago while in Colorado to face the Rockies, Puig went to a prom being held at his hotel with some of his fans and even posed for pictures. He has also been showing up early for flights and has been engaging with fans and teammates on social media in nearly perfect English. In fact, his English has improved so much that teammate Kiké Hernandez called him out on Twitter, asking him who has been writing his tweets for him.
It’s not entirely clear why Puig has suddenly decided to turn things around. It could just be that at age 25, Puig is getting older and wiser. It could be that rookie manager Dave Roberts has found a way to connect with young superstar in ways that Don Mattingly just simply couldn’t. Regardless of why he is doing what he is doing, the new Puig might be exactly what the Dodgers need to finally get past their playoff woes and into the World Series.
3. Chase Utley has become the Dodgers spark plug
When the Dodgers first signed Chase Utley this offseason, it seemed that he was being brought on because Howie Kendrick had not yet re-signed and top prospect Jose Peraza was traded away. The Dodgers needed to make sure they had at least someone who could play second base and the Southern California native clearly wanted to play in Los Angeles. As a 37-year-old, he also brought a veteran presence to the team that the Dodgers simply didn’t have outside of Adrian Gonzalez.
What Dodgers fans didn’t expect is that at 37-years-old Utley wasn’t ready to finish his career. Even though Kendrick did end up re-signing, he started the season on the disabled list and the Dodgers were stuck without a second baseman. Not only that, the Dodgers also didn’t have anyone that clearly stood out as the team’s leadoff batter come Opening Day. Rookie manager Dave Roberts penciled in the only option remaining and hasn’t been able to take him out since. In his 18 games this season, Utley has batted .318 with 8 extra base hits, including 2 triples. He has also scored 10 runs, only 4 less than he did all of 2015 with the Dodgers. In the meantime Kendrick has been slumping, batting only .165, and it appears as if Utley has officially taken over as the everyday second baseman.