Puig, Dodgers Aim for Strong Weekend Finish Against Cardinals

yasiel-puig2
(Sports Illustrated photo)

The first part of the weekend couldn’t have gone better for the Dodgers—three straight victories over the Cardinals, coupled with two minor league championships by the Drillers and the Quakes. And to top things off, the Giants handled the Rockies in the first two contests of a three-game weekend set, allowing Los Angeles to reclaim sole possession of first place in the National League West.

The timing can’t be any better, either. Entering Sunday’s finale, there are just 13 games remaining on the regular season schedule. After departing St. Louis, the Dodgers will head home for another showdown with the Rockies, followed by three games against the last-place Padres. To finish the season, Los Angeles will visit Arizona and San Francisco for three games apiece.

Aside from a two shaky innings by Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill, the starting pitching hasn’t been that bad lately. And the bullpen seems to be doing just enough to avoid any kind of heavy scrutiny. But it’s been the offense that has been capturing the headlines. Some believe that the bats are finally finding their groove after being inconsistent at best for the majority of the season.

And, if right fielder Yasiel Puig continues his current rate of production towards the bottom of the order, the Los Angeles offense might be impossible to contain down the stretch. Over his last three starts, Puig went 9-for-14 with seven runs scored, a double, five long balls and nine RBI. For the year, he’s slugging over .500 and has eclipsed the 20-HR plateau for the second consecutive season. Because of his reverse-split tendencies, he didn’t start Thursday night’s opener against St. Louis southpaw Austin Gomber, but he’ll certainly be in the lineup for Sunday’s finale against veteran righty Adam Wainwright.

“We want to be back in the playoffs, like every year.” Puig said after Saturday’s victory. “We need to play like a team, like family, hard every day, every pitch, in every situation.”

Yasiel isn’t the only one who has been seeing success at the dish. Shortstop Manny Machado hit a two-run bomb in the first inning on Saturday night, his 11th for the Dodgers and 35th for the entire season. Los Angeles has gone deep in 23 consecutive games, the longest streak in the majors this year and one shy of the franchise record, which was set back in 1953.

But the hottest bat in the lineup at the moment is probably that of two-hole hitter Justin Turner. Since August 4, the 33-year-old veteran is hitting a ridiculous .393/.482/.679 alongside 17 doubles, a triple, seven long balls, 25 RBI and a productive 30 runs scored.

“Finding ways to win games and get into the playoffs is what’s important,” Turner said on Saturday. “We’re going to do everything we can to win the division. Hopefully, if for whatever reason we do fall a little short there, then we’ll get in as a Wild Card.”

Like Puig, Cody Bellinger has also been showing signs of finding his groove. The 23-year-old has also hit 20+ homers over the past two seasons. His six RBI on Saturday set a career-high mark.

“We’re feeling really good,” Bellinger said after the team’s fourth-straight win. “We’ve still got 13 left to go, and we’re going to try to win every game and finish this thing really strong.”

Wainwright is just one game removed from a five month layoff due to injury and will face All-Star swing man Ross Stripling in Sunday’s finale. Stripling has made 30 total appearances this year and has posted a 2.61 ERA through 113-2/3 innings. As a starter, he’s 8-3 with a 2.95 ERA in 18 contests.

First pitch is 5:05 p.m. Los Angeles time and will be televised by ESPN.

 

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