Unsung players keeping LA competitive in NL West

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Unsung players keeping LA competitive in NL West

Andrew Martinez

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Dodgers vs. Diamondbacks

Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Juan Uribe has been one of the National League’s best hitters this season, and has stepped up in place of under-performing teammates. Courtesy of MCT

 

Written by Andrew Aroche / Contributor

As of today, the Los Angeles Dodgers sit in third place in the National League West. After a slow start to the season from star players like shortstop Hanley Ramirez and health woes that some see as a result of the exhibition series in Australia, several unsung players have helped carry the team to a 19-16 record.

Now with Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw’s return to the rotation, the Dodgers are poised to make a championship run with the help of four players. Overshadowed on a team with outfielders Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, the following players weren’t expected to do much.

 

Dee Gordon

Second baseman Dee Gordon has spent the past four seasons up and down between the Dodgers and Minor Leagues. After a solid rookie campaign, the former Minor League Player of the Year struggled to find offensive or defensive consistency, and coming into this season, was on the brink of being pushed off the team after the signing of Cuban defector,  second baseman Alexander Guererro. In the offseason, Gordon added 29 pounds to his slim physique and also began training with former All-Star shortstop Barry Larkin. As a result, the 26 year-old has become the team’s starting second baseman.

He has hit the ball with more authority, maintaining a .341 average, while showing his signature speed on the basepaths with his NL leading 20 stolen bases. Dee’s hard work is beginning to pay off, as he is a likely choice for this year’s All-Star team, a surprise on a team with a combined 31 All-Star appearances between them.

 

Juan Uribe

Third baseman Juan Uribe was a pariah in his first two seasons of his three-year contract with the Dodgers, as he struggled at the plate. Last season however, Uribe hit .278 with 12 home runs, including the game-winning home run in the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves, which earned him a new contract along with a higher status among fans and in the locker room.

Uribe’s personality has brought life to the team, and has also helped pitcher Hyun Jin Ryu and Puig adjust to life in the Major Leagues. So far this season, Uribe has hit .323 with four home runs, and continues to be a leader in the Dodger clubhouse.

 

Scott Van Slyke

Outfielder Scott Van Slyke, like Gordon, was another former Minor League Player of the Year who was not living up to expectations. Despite solid postseason numbers and a memorable stare-down with Cardinals pitcher Joe Kelly last season, Van Slyke did not figure to have a spot on the already crowded outfield of Kemp, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and Puig.

However, he has hit .268 with three home runs and a team-high on-base plus slugging percentage of 1.141 in a limited role with the club. Van Slyke has proved to be a valuable backup outfielder for the often injured Crawford and Kemp, and has also served as the team’s backup to Gonzalez.

 

Chris Withrow

Relief pitcher Chris Withrow emerged last season as a valuable, hard throwing right-hander out of the Dodgers’ bullpen. Although he pitched well in the postseason, Withrow figured to start this season in the Minor Leagues after the Dodgers signed former All-Star closers Brandon League, Chris Perez and Brian Wilson to join Kenley Jansen in the seemingly set-in-stone bullpen. After an elbow injury forced Wilson to the DL, Withrow began to see more playing time, and has so far established a miniscule 0.61 ERA along with 21 strikeouts in 14.2 innings pitched.

As Wilson continues to struggle with his command and velocity, Withrow figures to see a fair amount of playing time. He is considered by some as a candidate for the closer’s role in the future, especially with Kenley Jansen’s inconsistency in the ninth inning so far this year.

These four players have performed well for the Dodgers so far this season, and their efforts are being awarded with playing time and potential All-Star nominations. Once the offense and pitching begin firing on all cylinders, the Dodgers will be among the top teams in the Major Leagues, and may bring Los Angeles its first World Series trophy since 1988.