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The writing is on the clubhouse wall. Adrian Gonzalez is no longer helping the Los Angeles Dodgers, he’s hurting them.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the Butter and Eggs Man. If there’s something else we all know, it’s that the Dodgers would not have won four straight NL West championships without his leadership, steady glove, iron man dependability, and of course, all of those beautiful RBIs.
Trouble is, we haven’t seen much from the big man this year, and the first month of the season is now behind us. Adrian Gonzalez hasn’t been right all year, and he’s playing worse as time is passing. Gonzalez reported to Spring Training with what he called “tennis elbow”, and it’s becoming clear that he’s still suffering from something. Perhaps several somethings.
“I’ve just got broken parts, man.” , is how Gonzalez characterized the situation to Andy McCullogh after the Dodgers lost last night’s game, and the series, to the last place Giants.
Gonzalez has earned enough respect to play if he says he’s healthy and he can help the team, and manager Dave Roberts has an obligation to give him a pretty long line of rope. I get it, it’s the way teams operate. However, the length of that rope depends upon the team’s fortunes. A first place team can give an ailing veteran plenty of time to overcome a nagging injury – but the Dodgers aren’t in first place. The best they’ve done so far is to spin their wheels in the “.500 Zone” while being spanked around by last place teams. They’re starting to look like a lost and mediocre bunch of underachievers.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Every season has its pivitol moments. This is the first one of the year for the Dodgers. They have two veteran players (Chase Utley and Gonzalez) who are rapidly becoming automatic outs, but the good news is there are two young players (Chris Taylor and Cody Bellinger) up from the minors who have shown they can handle the bright spotlights and help the Dodgers win.
Cody Bellinger has been a joy to watch play. He’s done everything as advertised, and then some. In less than ten games he’s impressed the fans, the media, his coaches and his teammates. He’s the kind of spark plug that kicks a team out of the doldrums and right into the heat of the race. The sirens are screaming that Bellinger deserves to stay. We can all hear them. The Dodgers can’t afford to send him back down so that a number six hitter who runs like a file cabinet can continue to play weaker baseball every night.
Chris Taylor has done much of the same in his limited opportunities. He leads me to believe if he had more starts, we would be clamoring for him to remain with the big club as well.
I wrote about the Chase Utley problem a few days ago and I’m now pointing out it’s time for Adrian Gonzalez to step aside and spend some time on the disabled list, or for the skipper to insist upon it. Either way, the Dodgers stand at a crossroads. One path maintains the status quo – continuing to play two dead bats in the lineup nightly – while the other path bucks conventional, conservative baseball logic, and pushes the Dodgers toward their future now.
The Dodgers could (and should) go bold and find ways to keep Bellinger and Taylor in the lineup. Time and again while the tired and injured veterans made unproductive outs that stalled rallies, the kids came through and sparked victories when given the chance to play.
Gonzalez probably won’t take himself out of the lineup. He’s a proud man who’s never been on the DL in his career, and five will get you ten that he’s “not about to start now”. The Dodgers will have to nudge and shove Gonzalez out of the way. It’s like moving a file cabinet – difficult to do, but not impossible when necessary.