Blogger Smackdown: Eric Stephen Of True Blue L.A.

The season may be quickly going into the toilet, but that won't stop us from checking in on the Mets' current opponents, the Dodgers. To see what was shaking in LaLa Land I enlisted the help of Eric Stephen from SB Nation Dodgers site True Blue L.A.

You can read my answers to his questions here.

Manny's back. Is that a good thing? Bad thing? What's your take on steroids in baseball?

Having Manny back is a great thing. The lineup was starting to struggle without him (3.58 runs/game in June after 5.52 runs/game the first two months), and adding a Hall of Fame bat into the lineup is always good. I'm going to root for Manny because he'll help the Dodgers win, but I will admit the relationship has been changed, that's for sure. I tend not to get worked up about performance enhancing drugs in baseball. I would prefer if they weren't around, but its naive to think that. Really the only thing that bothers me about steroids is a perception out there that there is some magic pill or syringe that will turn some average Joe into a major league player. I'm not saying I think steroids and the like don't have an effect; if they didn't, nobody would be taking them. I just think their effects aren't as profound as many people perceive. Back to Manny: he served his suspension and did his time, and now its time to move on to baseball.

The starting rotation has been great. Are there any workload concerns with Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw?

I don't think so. Joe Torre has anointed Billingsley his ace, and rightfully so. He was a Verducci Effect candidate coming into this season, but that seemed a little overblown. Also, Billingsley has never had an arm injury, and had some prolific training and throwing program as a kid designed by his dad, to model after Nolan Ryan. Maybe he was on to something. Kershaw is on pace for somewhere in the 185-200 inning range, a year after throwing 169. Torre and the staff tend to monitor Kershaw pretty well, and I get the feeling they might skip a start or two in August just to limit his innings anyway, to be sharp for the playoffs.

What's with Randy Wolf's reverse Dodger Stadium home/road split (4.04 ERA at home, 2.91 ERA on the road)?

It is pretty weird, but I think it will smooth out over time. Wolf has been a pleasant surprise this season, as much for his performance (4.29 FIP) as his health. He has $3 million in innings-pitched incentives (from 170-200) that I didn't think he had a chance of reaching, yet he seems likely to do so now. It is money I would happily let Frank McCourt pay, just like all the PA incentives for The O-Dog. I want the Dodgers to win every game Wolf starts, but I take preverse pleasure in the fact that Randy Wolf is a mere eight no-decisions away from tying Bert Blyleven's all-time record of 20 for the 1979 "We Are Family" Pirates.

Jonathan Broxton: not quite as good as 2003 Eric Gagne, but pretty damned impressive. Does he have a weakness on the mound? Do you think he could eat more hot dogs than Gagne (~2003 or ~2009)?

Broxton finally had a bad outing Sunday, but for the most part has been ridiculously great this season. I expected him to be very, very good, but there was a large faction of Dodger fans who doubted him coming into the season despite stellar numbers. It has been sweet to see him succeed this year so far.

2009 Broxton could probably eat more hot dogs than 2003 Gagne, but you have to consider the era we are in now. Kobayashi and Joey Chestnut make the hot dog scene seem like MLB in the 1930s. All records aren't what they seem.

Russell Martin: !@#$ the heck is going on?

Martin's complete lack of power is a great concern for Dodger fans, even more so because Martin continues to bat ahead of The Bison (Matt Kemp) in the lineup. Martin's patience and OBP skills are still there, but he simply doesn't drive the ball anymore. Since last year's All-Star break, Martin's slugging percentage is a mere .317. He's tried yoga, has a hot new girlfriend, has rested far more this season, and yet nothing seems to work. I'm just going to assume his power outage was the equivalent of the 24-hour flu, and after the break, a rested Martin will come out swinging for the second half.

Juan Pierre in April/May: where has this guy been? Juan Pierre in June: oh, right. Does he just need Manny around to play well, or was that basically all you're going to get for the $45 million investment in Pierre?

Pierre picked the perfect time to play the best baseball of his career. In the first three weeks of the Manny suspension, it was almost like we didn't skip a beat in left field. He hit .425/.495/.598 over the first 20 games, with almost as many extra base hits (12) as he had all of last year (13). Now that Manny is back, Pierre is the clear 4th outfielder. He will start 1-2 games per week, and be Manny's late-inning defensive caddy, but other than that he's relegated to bench status. That $45 million is a sunk cost, and for once I trust the club realizes that.

Casey Blake is playing his best ball ever, at age 35. This is what the Dodgers thought they were getting when they traded for him last season, but he was actually pretty average after they did so. How does his performance compare to your expectations after the Dodgers resigned him this past offseason?

Casey "The Beard" Blake has far surpassed my expectations I had when the Dodgers gave up quite a stud prospect, catcher Carlos Santana to get him (ranked higher than Matt LaPorta, who the Indians got for C.C. Sabathia). Coming into the season, the prevailing thought was that Blake wouldn't start at 3B for the length of his contract (Blake DeWitt seemed on his way), but Casey Blake continues to prove me wrong.

The funny part of the whole offseason was that Dodger fans were prepared to let 23-year old Blake DeWitt be a starter, at either 2B or 3B. If the Dodgers knew Orlando Hudson would fall into their lap after his market collapsed, I don't think they would have signed Casey Blake. As it stands, the Dodgers have both, at a reasonable cost, and I couldn't be happier.

Are the Dodgers set or will they look to improve at the trade deadline? What areas, if any, do you feel they need to address?

I suspect the Dodgers will add a veteran reliever or two, but nobody of paramount importance. If they go after a starter, it will be someone who will start in the playoffs, meaning he would take starts away from Clayton Kershaw. Thus, I personally would prefer they stay out of the Jarrod Washburn end of the pool and stick to the Halladay/Oswalt/Lee deep end if they decide to test those waters.

If there is a left-handed bat out there, our bench could probably use that, but it seems the Phillies have cornered the market on those guys (Greg Dobbs, Matt Stairs).

How is Joe Torre as a manager? What are his strengths and weaknesses?

Torre can make us cringe occasionally with his batting order choices (i.e., Matt Kemp batting 8th), but for the most part he plays the right eight players every day so I can't really complain. His biggest strength is that he's a cool customer. He doesn't get too high after wins, and doesn't get too low after losses, and his even-keeled approach has rubbed off on the players, if only to creat a calming influence in the clubhouse.

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