Ahead of the series against the Dodgers beginning tonight, Ben Haber of our SB Nation sister site True Blue LA was kind enough to answer some questions about the current state of the Dodgers. I also answered some questions for Ben that you can check out at True Blue LA here.
Jason: The Dodgers were in last place just a month ago, what do you credit to be the reason for their meteoric rise back into relevancy?
Ben: There are numerous reasons for the Dodgers turning it around, starting with an improved bill of health. At least three of the four all-star caliber outfielders have been healthy during the 26-6 stretch. In addition, Zack Greinke finally got back to the mound. Beyond the injuries, the improved bullpen deserves credit. Kenley Jansen continues to be one of the best closers in baseball, and Paco Rodriguez, Ronald Belisario, Brandon League and company are keeping the boys in blue alive. Regarding the hitting, everything started with Yasiel Puig, and his energy was infectious. Hanley Ramirez may be the hottest hitter in baseball, while Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier are consistently producing.
Jason: In spring you had the problem of 'too much pitching,' but the team has needed subs for their subs with the amount of injuries the Dodgers have had. Is pitching their glaring weakness or is there somewhere else the team desperately needs to upgrade at?
Ben: I wouldn't say the Dodgers have any glaring weaknesses, but they could improve their fifth rotation spot. Chris Capuano may be the most inconsistent pitcher in baseball, tossing shutout ball in four of the last seven starts, while giving up five runs in each of the other three. General manager Ned Colletti could inquire on a second baseman, third baseman, and more bullpen help.
Jason: What kind of a trade do you think the Dodgers could make before the deadline? Would it be a big blockbuster trade or a small trade for a role player?
Ben: Dodgers fans are getting quite used to big blockbuster trades at the deadline, but shouldn't expect the trend to repeat again this year. Cliff Lee to Los Angeles rumors are being tossed around, yet the deal makes little sense for either side. Don Mattingly's club is 26-6 over the last 32 games, therefore, if it isn't broken, then don't fix it.
Jason: Yasiel Puig has taken the baseball world by storm, but how good is he really? Do you expect him to be the team's franchise player going forward?
Ben: Yasiel Puig lives up to the hype. The most impressive part to me about Puig - he continues to hit above .380 despite possessing numerous flaws. Once Puig learns how to lay off more pitches, the rest of the MLB should be scared. Puig can get it done in every facet of the game, showcasing an elite arm and uncanny speed. At 6'3" 245 pounds, Puig is simply a freak of nature, and should be the face of the Dodgers going forward.
Jason: Who has been the happiest surprise for the Dodgers in 2013 and who has been the biggest letdown?
Ben: The biggest surprise belongs to starting pitchers Hyun-Jin Ryu. We didn't really know what to expect from the Korean native. Four months later, Ryu belongs in the Rookie of the Year conversation with a 9-3 record, 3.14 ERA and 105 strike outs. The biggest letdown is easily Matt Kemp. To date, Kemp is hitting .263 with five home runs and 27 RBI. Beyond the subpar statistics, Kemp can't even stay on the field. Kemp only sports 228 at bats and 62 games played because of three different DL stints.
Jason: Is there a team that is a real threat to the Dodgers because right now they look to be unstoppable?
Ben: Let's not prematurely count out the St. Louis Cardinals. Through the Dodgers trials and tribulations, the Cardinals have consistently performed and arguably own baseball's most balanced roster. Led by Carlos Beltran, Allen Craig, Matt Carpenter and more, the Cardinals have the second best batting average in the game at .274 and rank third in runs at 500. On the bump, the Cardinals team ERA of 3.42 comes in at fourth. However, with all that being said, the Dodgers should be favored against anybody.
Jason: Are you concerned that all these long-term contracts are going to hurt the team eventually or do you think they're fine? Which contracts might prove to be problematic?
Ben: The long-term contracts are definitely concerning. On the contrary, they won't matter if the ownership spends more in spite of it. Magic Johnson, Mark Walter and Stan Kasten don't appear to be done spending in their efforts to bring the Dodgers multiple World Series championship. Carl Crawford's seven-year $142 million will never look good, but it will appear especially horrible in two-three seasons. Josh Beckett makes around $15.75 million, which is awful, but it comes off the books after next season.
Jason: Hanley Ramirez is a free agent in 2014, will the Dodgers re-sign him? Will they go after someone else?
Ben: If the contract came up today, the Dodgers would definitely sign Hanley Ramirez. However, in 2014, the script needs to play out more, although Ramirez is clearly back into the conversation of the best players in baseball. The entire Los Angeles and Ramirez marriage has gone smoothly, therefore I expect the team to maintain his services. No other shortstop outside of Troy Tulowitzki compares to Ramirez right now, sorry Derek Jeter!
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