LOS ANGELES -- The mythology of the Los Angeles Dodgers' 2013 season stars a powerful young hero named Yasiel Puig, with bulging biceps, a square chin, strong hands and surprisingly agile feet. This modern-day Hercules fought off wild beasts, rescued the team from where it was foundering and carried it to safety, but our hero petered out within a couple of games of the World Series.
It's a convenient narrative, but place one little fact on it and it crumbles. The Dodgers went 7-10 when Puig first got to the big leagues. It wasn't until Hanley Ramirez's hamstrings started feeling better and he started battering down fences alongside Puig that the Dodgers got on their now-famous roll 42-8 roll.
Well, well, look what we have now, in Puig's second season in the big leagues. He's a better player, his exploits even more worthy of legend, and they're getting the Dodgers equally little traction. Puig was the league's player of the month for May, but his hot hitting actually started a bit before that. Since April 25, he's batting .393 with 13 doubles, nine home runs and 30 RBIs.
In the old days, they used to call that "carrying a team," but where has it gotten this team? The Dodgers are 18-19 and have lost 6½ games in the standings since that date.
There's not much more Puig can do aside from offer up some of his DNA for seven new clones. When will this guy get a little help in this lineup? Which Ramirez are we going to see the rest of this season, the guy who was the best hitter in the National League when healthy last year or the over-swinging .250 hitter from the two previous years? Is Matt Kemp simply too diminished by injuries and too frustrated with his new role to offer much? Is Adrian Gonzalez, one of baseball's steadiest run producers for years, becoming too streaky to rely upon?
Any day now, guys.
"It takes more than one guy to do it," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "You've got to get a group of guys to kind of sustain it together. I think we'll get that."
Maybe. Maybe even probably? But Mattingly has been saying things like, "I think we'll get that," for a while now and his team remains stuck in this slow drift to nowhere, barely bobbing above .500. You could sense a little more aggravation in Mattingly's voice when he discussed parts of Tuesday night's 4-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox and their pitcher, Hector Noesi, who entered the game 0-3 with a 4.33 ERA. Noesi was a waiver claim by Chicago after two teams opted not to keep him around.
"We've got to be able to force guys to work. That's a guy over there struggling," Mattingly said. "This is his third team this year and we didn't do a lot with him."
Gonzalez has shown good power, but he's batting .257 and in the midst of a rough couple of weeks. Dee Gordon's offense is in a slow downward spiral. Andre Ethier is slumping. Kemp, at times, looks lost. Ramirez has shown powerful flashes, but that's all they’ve been so far, brief flare-ups of lightning followed by quiet.
"We're going to have to piece together several wins in a row at some point," Dodgers pitcher Dan Haren said. "The longer we wait, the harder it's going to be. The talent's here."
Again, any time now, guys. Puig is standing here waiting.