Five For Five: A Mets vs. Dodgers Series Preview With Eric Stephen of True Blue LA

Apr 10, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; General view of Dodger Stadium during the playing of the national anthem before the 2012 opening day game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

The Mets head out to the west coast for the first time this season, as they meet up with the first place Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. LA got off to a scorching hot start but they've since come back to the pack. They're now tied for first place in the NL West with the Giants and the owners of a 43-33 record. To give us a little insight on the 2012 Dodgers, I sent Eric Stephen, manager of SB Nation's Dodgers blog True Blue LA, a few questions and he was kind enough to answer them below:

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Amazin' Avenue: Who or what has been the biggest success so far this season?

True Blue LA: The biggest success story this year is probably a tie between catcher A.J. Ellis and former Met Chris Capuano. Ellis is a 31-year old who before this year had played 87 major league games. He is the everyday catcher and has hit .290/.417/.430 so far, starting 60 games. Capuano has been a stabilizing force in the starting rotation, already winning nine games and putting up quality start after quality start. The further removed he gets from Tommy John surgery, Capuano seems to be getting better.

AA: Star center fielder Matt Kemp got off to a rollicking start but has been sidelined for most of May and June with a hamstring injury. With Kemp out, how have the Dodgers fared offensively? Who's filling in for him in center field?

TB: The Dodgers did well during Kemp's first stint on the disabled list, going 9-5 in May, but the second time has been a disaster. The Dodgers scored 13 runs on their nine-game road trip, including zero runs in three games in San Francisco, and during Kemp's current DL stint the Dodgers are 11-15, hitting a paltry .225/.300/.298 as a team, and averaging just 3.19 runs per game during that span.

Tony Gwynn Jr., who has proven to be a capable fourth outfielder, has started 34 of the last 42 games and has hit just .248/.280/.314 during that span.

AA: 31 year old A.J. Ellis has come out of nowhere to have an outstanding first half as the Dodgers' starting catcher. Considering his age and lack of big league playing time, were you expecting anything close to this level of production from him?

TB: Ellis has always been an OBP guy, with a lifetime .406 on-base percentage in the minors, but the power was lacking. He hit no home runs in the majors or minors in 2009 and 2010, and the first half of 2011, but he hit four home runs last season in the second half, and has hit six home runs so far this season. He really has worked his butt off the last few years, working tirelessly on his swing, and it has really paid off.

Back in March, my wild guess for Ellis was to hit .257/.354/.326, and he has exceeded that. He is hitting .228/.389/.281 in June, perhaps feeling the strain of catching 60 of 76 games.

AA: The Dodgers' rotation has been strong, thanks to the efforts of stud lefty Clayton Kershaw and former Met/Keith Hernandez favorite Chris Capuano. I'm more curious to hear your take on Chad Billingsley, who seem to underwhelm despite his strikeout repertoire. Is this something that Dodger fans feel and if so, what do you think contributes to this phenomena?

TB: Opinions on Billingsley seem to run the gamut from "solid" to "underrated" to "disappointment" to "overpaid," but if there is one thing we can agree on is that he has been inconsistent. I think Billingsley suffers when compared to Kershaw. Billingsley was a first round pick and highly-touted prospect, and while he is a quality MLB starting pitcher, the ship on him becoming an ace appears to have sailed. Dodgers fans who haven't adjusted their expectations accordingly will continue to be frustrated by Billingsley.

AA: GM Ned Colletti's reputation seems to be pretty low, at least among fans of other teams. How do fans of the Dodgers feel about their front office? I'm sure winning cures some of the ills of the infamous Carlos Santana for Casey Blake deal and other prior missteps, no?

TB: The jury on Colletti is still out in some respects, as we really don't know what the new ownership group will do going forward. We might need an offseason to assess. While the Santana for Blake deal certainly deserves the ire it receives, the current focus of Colletti derision is split between James McDonald, who is flourishing as a starter in Pittsburgh after getting dumped for less than 19 innings of Octavio Dotel in 2010, and Juan Uribe, who signed a three-year, $21 million contract before the 2011 season. Uribe has been an absolute disaster, hitting .206/.262/.294 with five home runs in 115 games as a Dodger.

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A big thanks goes out to Eric Stephen of True Blue LA for helping us preview this series! Tonight's game begins at 10:10 PM and it's a battle of the Chrises, as Chris Young takes on former Met Chris Capuano. On Friday night, R.A. Dickey faces off against Aaron Harang. Saturday is another 7:15 PM Fox primetime affair, as Johan Santana takes on Nathan Eovaldi. And the finale on Sunday is once again an 8:00 PM ESPN matchup, though this one's a bit of a mismatch: Dillon Gee goes up against Clayton Kershaw. Yikes.

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