After 32 years, the Los Angeles Dodgers are finally back in the Bronx, and LA skipper Don Mattingly will make just his second appearance here since leaving the team's coaching staff. When I saw this series on the schedule, I knew it would be one of the most anticipated matchups of the year, regardless of record.
They've played two three-game series in interleague play, both at Dodgers Stadium, where the Yankees lost two out of three in '04 before taking two out of three in 2010. (Thanks again, Broxton and Sherrill!) Historically, in their all-time head-to-head record, the Yankees have a 40-32 record combined regular season and postseason against the Dodgers' franchise (27-17 vs. Brooklyn, 13-15 vs. L.A.). The Yankees have won eight World Series titles at the Dodgers' expense, but they are only 2-2 in Fall Classics against the L.A. franchise.
Many Yankees fans probably have at least passing knowledge of the fact that the Dodgers have vastly underachieved this year at 10 games under .500 despite building up a $216 million payroll that actually ranked ahead of the Yankees for the highest in baseball until the late-March Vernon Wells deal. (Yippie.) However, there are still several parts of this team that are quite exciting (especially Puigmania), and mid-June is far too early to declare almost any team dead in the water. To learn more about the opponent, I contacted True Blue LA's superb manager, Eric Stephen, to ask him some questions about the boys in blue.
Q & A
Andrew: Mattingly might be one of the most beloved former Yankees alive, and to some people, it was a little surprising that the Yankees chose Joe Girardi to manage the team rather than "Donnie Baseball" following Joe Torre's departure in 2007. After watching Mattingly manage the Dodgers for almost two and a half years, what do you think are Mattingly's strengths and weaknesses as a skipper? Do you think he'll survive the season if the Dodgers continue to struggle?
Eric: Mattingly's strength is that he's a player's manager. He is straightforward with the players and always lets them know where they stand. Mattingly almost never rips his players so it was a little out of character for him to call out the team in May, specifically Andre Ethier for not working hard enough. But given Ethier's production it was certainly warranted.
Mattingly's weaknesses are the same type one might see with most managers. He bunts too often for my tastes and has shown too much faith in Luis Cruz, who may be the worst hitter in baseball this season. Letting Cruz hit down two with the tying runs on base in the sixth inning, when both Hanley Ramirez and Jerry Hairston available, was particularly damning.
Andrew: Ever since Magic Johnson and co. bought the team from Frank McCourt last year, the Dodgers have gone on a spending spree that would make even the late George Steinbrenner blush. How many of these big transactions did you think were wise? Matt Kemp's $160 million, eight-year extension was granted toward the end of the McCourt era, but it would be nice to get your thoughts on that deal, too.
Eric: The Kemp deal looked great before shoulder surgery turned him into Shawn Green. I still have faith that Kemp will eventually return to form, even if it's not this season. But aside from the shoulder, Kemp missed 51 games last year with hamstring strains, and is currently going on three weeks and counting missed with another, so there is worry there.
I loved the Zack Greinke deal (6/$147m) too since I felt he was the top pitcher on the market, and one who could complement Clayton Kershaw at the top of the rotation.
The Hyun-jin Ryu contract (6/$61.7m including posting fee) was risky but looks outstanding so far.
But my favorite deal of the bunch will be Clayton Kershaw's record extension, whenever it gets completed.
Andrew: The Yankees will fortunately miss Kershaw in this quick two-game series, but what can you tell us about the rookie Ryu? He seems to be off to a fine start. Do you have any ideas about who will start on Wednesday?
Eric: Ryu has been an absolute revelation. He has command of four pitches, and seems to be a master at changing speeds. I have been pleasantly surprised by the lack of walks. In spring training Mattingly compared Ryu to David Wells, and the comparison is apt, not just in body type. Ryu will give up his hits but he'll also be around the strike zone. A lot.
Chris Capuano will be activated from the DL Wednesday to start the finale. He was sidelined since May 29 with a lat strain but pitched four innings in a rehab start in Triple-A on Friday.
Andrew: Yasiel Puig is playing out of this world right now in the first weeks of his major league career. Is there any way to get him out or should the Yankees' pitchers just try throwing the eephus? Is there anyone else in the Dodgers' offense right now who might give them fits other than Puig and Adrian Gonzalez?
Eric: Puig has been outstanding but almost literally nobody outside of Puig has been hitting. Despite hitting .500 in his last eight games Puig has no RBI because he only has four PA with RISP. His two singles in those situations were hit too hard to score the runners from second. When Puig is in scoring position so far, the Dodgers are 0-for-20. That's why Puig only has seven runs scored despite four homers and a .500 OBP.
Andrew: The Dodgers might be 10 games under .500 and in last place in the NL West, but the NL West is so tight that they only trail the first place Diamondbacks by 7.5 games. Do you expect the Dodgers to get back in the race, or do you think the hole they've dug might be too difficult to climb?
Eric: Despite being relatively close at seven games back I think the hole is too big, mostly because they have four teams ahead of them. Also, the Dodgers have not shown the ability to stay healthy or play well enough for it to even matter.
Andrew: I know that McCourt was trying to sell the team, but why on Earth did the Dodgers let Hiroki Kuroda go to the Yankees after the 2011 season? They signed Kemp to that large extension the same off-season, so how could money be the problem?
Eric: Letting Kuroda go is one of the great regrets in recent years. The Dodgers' buyer wasn't picked until March 28, 2012, so that offseason was kind of weird. There was a payroll limit for 2012, so we saw a lot of backloaded two-year deals. Kemp's deal paid him "only" $10 million last year, for instance.
I would have almost preferred they signed Kuroda and done little else. But they spread that money plus a little more for backloaded deals for Capuano, Aaron Harang, Mark Ellis and Jerry Hairston, plus a one-year deal with a club option for Juan Rivera. Ugh.
Andrew: It's amazing to me that even though interleague play is in its 17th season and Dodgers/Yankees is a classic World Series rivalry, this will be the first Dodgers/Yankees series in the Bronx since 1981. Do you have an all-time favorite Dodgers/Yankees moment? Going beyond this matchup, what is your favorite memory as a Dodgers fan? (Very broad question, I know.)
Eric: It is absolutely criminal that the Dodgers haven't played the Yankees in New York in interleague play until now. I was five years old and not following baseball during the 1981 World Series so I don't have firsthand memories. I enjoyed the battles of Eric Gagne vs. the heart of the Yankees order in 2004 at Dodger Stadium. But the coolest Dodgers-Yankees moment of my lifetime was one I've only seen on video: Bob Welch striking out Reggie Jackson to end Game 2 if the 1978 World Series. Just a great showdown. (Video here.)
Best of luck this series.
Many thanks to Eric for doing this interview for me.
From Tommy Henrich and Don Larsen in the Brooklyn days to Reggie Jackson and Graig Nettles in the LA days, the Yankees/Dodgers rivalry has been one of the finest in baseball history. Let's hope these two games in Yankee Stadium and the two at Dodger Stadium on July 30-31 are just as memorable. Don't forget that on Wednesday, iconic broadcaster Vin Scully will be live-tweeting the game on the Dodgers' Twitter account, even though he will sadly not be doing the games on the radio.
If you're still trying to get to the game, there are still cheap Yankees tickets available. If you are going, I am insanely jealous.