A lifeless group of losers, the Los Angeles Dodgers needed some kind of miracle to revive their season. That’s when Yasiel Puig arrived, armed with a bat and a defibrillator.
Buried at the bottom of the National League West just over a month ago, the Dodgers’ sudden rise to the top has been a shock. It’s not all because of Puig, but he restarted the heart of a team that was playing without one.
“It’s an amazing turnaround,” said Micah Roberts of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com. “What’s not to like about the Dodgers?”
As May turned to June, the Dodgers were as likable as diarrhea and heartburn, and time was running out on Don Mattingly’s stay as manager. Puig debuted in right field June 3, hit four home runs in his first five games, and a miracle was in motion.
The Dodgers, 30-42 and 9½ games out of first in the West on June 21, are 56-48 and 2½ games in front of second-place Arizona today. It’s not a transformation anyone could have predicted.
At one point, the Dodgers’ odds to win the World Series were hanging around 40-1. Anyone walking into the LVH sports book today will see the Dodgers at 6-1 to win the World Series and 3-1 to win the NL.
“Puig has basically rejuvenated everybody,” LVH oddsmaker Jeff Sherman said. “When he started playing, he was the one hustling when other guys weren’t hustling. The energy around the team is different. The Dodgers have been very popular in our betting pool.”
The roll continued Sunday, when Puig homered with two outs in the 11th inning to give the Dodgers a 1-0 victory over the Cincinnati Reds. After his 10th homer in 48 games, Puig rounded the bases, slid into home plate and was mobbed by teammates who had no reasons to get excited two months ago.
Even Vin Scully, a guy who has seen it all in baseball, sounds shocked to call the dramatic change in the Dodgers.
Puig has been a positive performance enhancer, as far as we know, unlike Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez and the game’s many other tainted names.
Things can change quickly, and a losing streak could be lurking, but the Dodgers appear to be the real deal. Ace left-hander Clayton Kershaw is pitching with more run support, Zack Greinke has returned from injury to solidify the top of the rotation and Kenley Jansen is closing the games that Brandon League once was blowing.
The comparisons between Puig and Bo Jackson are off base in at least one respect — we have no idea if Puig could run with a football and flatten Brian Bosworth — but he is a rare five-tool talent.
As Puig’s bat started to cool off, Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez got hot. The Dodgers, who recently reeled off a 10-game road win streak, are getting it done mostly without injured star Matt Kemp.
“Kershaw is probably the best pitcher in baseball,” Sherman said, “and the Dodgers are in a very weak division.”
The value of a futures wager on the Dodgers, be it 15-1 or 25-1, has all but disappeared for now, yet their odds of reaching the postseason and winning when they get there are encouraging.
“The Dodgers have a lethal 1-2 combination that will be hard to match up against in a seven-game series,” Roberts said. “I would take Kershaw against any No. 1 and Greinke against any No. 2.
“The NL West is reason to like the Dodgers to simply make the playoffs, where anything can happen. There will be pitfalls along the way, but I don’t see Arizona matching L.A. win for win the rest of the way. The Dodgers might have the most-feared lineup in the NL, and just imagine what they could do if their high-priced outfielders, Kemp, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier, actually contributed.”
Roberts made cases for the Dodgers to win the NL and the Tampa Bay Rays to emerge from the other half of the bracket. The Rays, a young team full of upside and led by a great manager in Joe Maddon, are posted at 12-1 odds to win the World Series and 6-1 to win the American League.
There are two sides to the tale in Los Angeles, and the side in Anaheim is getting worse. The Angels (48-55) are a lost cause, and designated hitter Albert Pujols could be gone for the season with a left foot injury.
“I don’t think the Angels have a prayer,” Sherman said.
The Dodgers, with their $220 million payroll, are finally getting some bang for the buck. But the Angels are a big-time bust.
■ SAD NOTE — A large group of familiar faces in the gaming industry gathered at a local bar Wednesday to honor Rick Herron, who died in his sleep last week at 59.
Herron worked at a variety of sports books, including the Barbary Coast, Sands and Las Vegas Hilton, during a career of 30-plus years. He was respected as an oddsmaker and as a good friend to many.
When police arrived at his home, they found a betting ticket on Phil Mickelson at 20-1 odds to win the British Open. Herron went out with a winner.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at email@example.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.