After taking two of three from the Diamondbacks, the Mets head further west to Los Angeles to open up a three-game series with the red-hot Dodgers. Thanks to the exploits of phenom Yasiel Puig, among others, the Dodgers won 19 of 25 games in July and they've been even better in August, winning nine of their first ten games this month. To help us get a better look at the first place Dodgers, Ben Haber of True Blue LA answered a few questions for us.
Amazin' Avenue: The Dodgers started off slow but have really come on strong since the start of July and now find themselves with a large lead in the NL West. What would you say has been the key to their remarkable turnaround?
True Blue LA: The Dodgers are 20-3 after the all star break and 37-8 over their last 45 games, therefore, practically everything can be attributed for the drastic turnaround. On the hitting side, Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez have been the major contributors. Puig continues to grow at the plate via improved plate discipline, already drawing 10 walks in August compared to only eight freebies in all of July and four in June. By doing so, Puig's getting better pitches to hit, which helps keep his average up around .380. Meanwhile, Ramirez was amongst the hottest hitters in the world before injuring his shoulder. In addition, Adrian Gonzalez solid day-in day-out play never wavered. After the rocky ending in Florida, nobody knew what to expect from Ramirez, but he gotten back to a MVP caliber of play.
For the pitchers, the unit boasts an impressive 2.6 ERA in their last 42 games. Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu comprise one of baseball's toughest 1-2-3 starting pitcher trios. Most importantly, the bullpen was the Dodgers weakness early on and it may be their strength now. Kenley Jansen has evolved into a elite closer, with 17 saves, 84 strikeouts and only nine walks. Surrounding Jansen in the bullpen are quality mixes of lefties and righties that come in and hold down the fort. All in all, winning makes players happy, and the new-found locker room chemistry can also get attributed.
AA: The Mets saw Hyun-Jin Ryu earlier this season and they'll face him again on Tuesday. How has his rookie season gone and is he as good as the numbers say he's been?
TBLA: Hyun-Jin Ryu's numbers are the real deal, sporting a 1--3 record with a 2.99 ERA. The rookie Korean native looks wise beyond his years, exemplifying superb composure on the mound. Ryu can't beat opponents with blazing fastballs, yet he prefers to use pin point location to sit batters down. The best pitches in Ryu's are the off-speed one's, featuring great movement and speed differential compared to the fastball. The sole question surrounding Ryu would be durability. The Korean baseball season is significantly shorter and pitchers only toss on every sixth day compared to fifth here. With that being said, Ryu may end up getting tired down the home stretch. However, the Dodgers are very optimistic Ryu can keep it up throughout the playoffs.
AA: Yasiel Puig's hot start has been a topic of conversation around the league ever since he exploded onto the scene. Mets fans have seen the highlights but since you've seen him play more often, give us a scouting report of what to expect from him.
TBLA: Puig brings everything to the table: tee-ball like hustle and excitement kids play with, erratic fielding and questionable base running, miraculous diving catches, routine multi-hit games and more. At 6'3" and 245 pounds, Puig is a physical specimen. Puig easily qualifies into the five tool player category. At the plate, Puig tends to be a free swinger, but as I mentioned earlier, the problem seems to be getting better. The toughest pitches for Puig are off-speed, especially located on the outer half of the plate. However, Puig hasn't chased as many lately, putting the pitchers in a tough predicament. If the pitcher makes any minor mistake, Puig will simply make them pay with home runs or doubles into the gap. The combination of talent and chaos Puig creates makes him arguably the most exciting player in baseball. As Terrell Owens once said, get your popcorn ready.
AA: Brandon League was mercifully moved out of the closer's role earlier this year and Kenley Jansen has taken over. How has he pitched in that role and how has the Dodgers' bullpen looked overall?
TBLA: Brandon League's season has been nothing short of a bust. At 21 million dollars over three seasons, League was expected to be the teams reliable closer. Instead, he owns a disastrous 5.27 ERA. Prior to the all-star break, League was struggling mightily, getting shunned from appearing in any close or meaningful games. Since then, League switched his number back to 31 and the results are much better. The problems with League were never pitch oriented, more based on the lack of command and too many walks. League's tool box of pitches is complete, and now he knows the right places for the tools, the strike zone. Currently, League mainly gets used during the middle innings and makes some set-up man appearances. As an entire unit, the bullpen looks very reliable. The Dodgers have four players (lefty J.P Howell, lefty Paco Rodriguez, Chris Withrow and Kenley Jansen) with ERA's in the low 2's. Ronald Belisario is another key piece of the puzzle, accumulating a 5-6 record with a 3.33 ERA. The bullpen may get even better when Brian Wilson gets called up within the next week. Wilson looks solid in rehab starts and should stretch the team's reliable relievers from five to six.
AA: I'd be remiss if I didn't ask this but a number of commenters here at Amazin' Avenue have an affinity for Dodgers' outfield prospect Joc Pedersen, seeing him as a potential trade target. With the Dodger outfield so crowded already, what do you think they do with Pedersen as he rises through the system and do you think a trade is a possibility? And if so, what do you think the Dodgers would look for in return?
TBLA: First of all, great question. The future of Joc Pederson and the Dodgers together seems very unclear at this point. For now, Pederson still needs to improve and attempts to climb the ranks of the minor leagues, as you eluded to. Once Pederson becomes ready for the big leagues, I doubt he'll be playing for the Dodgers, barring a position change or the NL miraculously adding the DH spot. The following contract situations led me to guess Pederson won't play in Hollywood: Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp are under contract for five fivers, Andre Ethier for four years, and Yasiel Puig for six years. Therefore, manager Don Mattingly doesn't even have enough room for all four of those outfielders, let alone another one in Pederson. I'm not sure if the Dodgers would attempt to get proven big league commodities for Pederson, or target another intriguing prospect at a position of need. Ned Colletti has been reluctant to trade young talent, attempting to replenish the farm system. Based on pure speculation, Colletti probably prefers to go after a bright youngster at the second base position and maybe pitching. The trade may not come in the off-season, but moving Pederson is logical.
Thanks again to Ben for giving us a preview of the Dodgers!