KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Los Angeles Dodgers' offseason objective was to get younger and more athletic. Then they went out and signed a bunch of relief pitchers.
The two young athletes they brought in, Cubans Alex Guerrero and Erisbel Arruebarrena, have had 15 major league plate appearances between them this season. There is a young and speedy outfielder, Joc Pederson, in the wings, but he has been blocked all season by four veteran outfielders in L.A. who aren't getting any more athletic and are certainly not getting any younger.
Yet, despite all that, the plan has somehow worked. Someone they had all along has somehow made it work by his stubborn refusal to give up his everyday spot in the lineup. Dee Gordon has probably been a bigger part of what makes this Dodgers offense go than any of us has given him credit for.
The Dodgers are third in the National League in runs scored despite being ninth in home runs. They lead the majors with 80 stolen bases, and Gordon has half of those.
You want young and athletic? How about Gordon and Yasiel Puig legging out triples on back-to-back plays Wednesday that looked routine doubles all the way. Gordon lined a ball directly over the right fielder's head. Puig yanked one into the left-field corner. When Royals outfielders took their time retrieving the balls, both Gordon and Puig just kept going. They did that in the third inning to spark a two-run rally to help the Dodgers ease out of Kansas City with a 5-4 win, keeping their momentum intact.
"Dee's definitely changing things when he gets on base," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.
He changes everything. It's not only the stolen bases, it's how teams react to his threat of advancing. If anything, Gordon has been forcing the issue at times lately. After getting caught stealing only three times in his first 55 games, Gordon has been caught four times in his past 18. But the Dodgers aren't as concerned with whether Gordon flashes back to the 1980s and steals 80-something bases as they are with what he can do to help them win games.
The Dodgers need him to score runs and he now leads them in that category. He has scored 13 times in those 18 games. Pitchers at times have proven obsessed with him and it has led to bad results for them. In San Diego, reliever Alex Torres seemed so preoccupied with Gordon after he walked him that he lost his focus, allowing a key insurance run to score. Wednesday night, James Shields actually balked in a run while trying to pick Gordon off third. Did he really think he was going to try to steal home?
Gordon's legs can impact an inning in ways most of us might never pick up on.
"In my experience with guys who are running, you've got to slide-step more, and when a pitcher slide steps, you're going to lose a little more behind the ball and location isn't quite as crisp,” pitcher Dan Haren said. "It's definitely a weapon, and he's been getting on base a lot in the last couple weeks."
A great catcher can neutralize base stealing, of course. Gordon didn't steal here off Salvador Perez. He managed to steal second on backup Brett Hayes, and Hayes threw him out going for third two innings later. This weekend, the Dodgers face the St. Louis Cardinals, who once personified the 1980s speed game. Now the face of their team is catcher Yadier Molina.
In Game 1 of last October's NLCS, Gordon pinch-ran for Adrian Gonzalez in the eighth inning. He never tried to steal off Molina and the Dodgers didn't score, losing 3-2. Many Dodgers fans seemed to blame Mattingly for pulling Gonzalez at that point, but the complexion of that series might have changed if Gordon could have stolen that base.
"Some guys you just can't run on, but if the pitcher's concentrating on you and someone behind you gets something to hit, I'll take that," Gordon said. "I've got to just go play the game. I can't stop playing my game."
When Gordon was asked if he'd like to get Molina in the upcoming series just to show that he can, he wanted no part of it. Give him credit for more than just his athletic ability. He's smart, too.