After a 5-1 week against a pair of non-contending NL West rivals, the Mets travel to Chavez Ravine for a three-game set against the very much-contending Los Angeles Dodgers, who after easily dispatching the Tampa Bay Rays can be considered the hottest baseball team on the planet. After a dismal start that saw them firmly entrenched in last place on June 21, the Dodgers heated up with the weather, leapfrogged everyone else in the otherwise weak division, and have all but assured themselves of a playoff berth with a 7.5-game lead over second-place Arizona. My guest today is Stacie Wheeler, an editor for FanSided’s Lasorda’s Lair, who will give her input on the matchup between the Mets and one of its parent franchises.
Will DeBoer, Rising Apple: The Dodgers are on a ’51 Giants-esque (sorry, had to go there) tear of 37-8 since June 22. Lots of people want to attribute that to Yasiel Puig, but he’s only one part of the story. What has been the secret behind LA’s blazing run?
Stacie Wheeler, Lasorda’s Lair: The amazing run by the Dodgers can be attributed to a few factors. The first being that they finally got healthy. Numerous injuries really decimated this team in the first two months of the season. The Dodgers lost Zack Greinke to a broken collarbone in the brawl with San Diego, and Hanley Ramirez injured his thumb and hamstring earlier in the season. The Dodgers also cut some non-performing players like Ramon Hernandez, Matt Guerrier, and Luis Cruz. Finally the call-up of Yasiel Puig on June 3rd really sparked the team, and from then on out it was like a whole new Dodgers squad from what we were watching with disappointment before Puig joined them.
SW: Hyun-jin Ryu has quietly been having a fantastic rookie season, and the Korean southpaw has really been an integral part of the Dodgers rotation this season. He’s been one if my favorite Dodgers to watch this year, and he definitely deserves to be considered for Rookie of the Year honors. There were some naysayers when he was first signed by the Dodgers, but the scouting staff really did a fantastic job with this international signing. He’s really far exceeded anyone’s expectations. Game two in the series will be a great match-up between Ryu and Harvey.
WD: Is Yasiel Puig expected to carry on this amazing pace of his, and does anyone in the organization see him as injury-prone due to his aggressiveness?
SW: Yasiel Puig has already had to make some adjustments, but Mark McGwire and Don Mattingly have done a great job molding the young outfielder into a complete hitter. Puig was chasing balls out of the strike zone, but he has really improved on his patience at the plate which has translated in a lot more walks. His aggressive style does frighten us at times, and he has already injured his hip after hitting the wall in Colorado. I wouldn’t want to change his style of play, but I’m sure he will mature a bit and learn the league’s ballparks more.
WD: While the rest of the Dodgers have waken up from the early-season nightmare, Matt Kemp certainly has not. When (if?) he comes back before the end of the season, which Kemp do you expect we will see: the MVP candidate of the last two seasons or the .700 OPS man we have seen so far in 2013?
SW: It’s been a frustrating year for Matt Kemp, and it’s been equally frustrating for Dodger fans during his three DL stints. Matt Kemp should be back within a couple of weeks, but I’m not expecting 2011 Kemp right out of the gate. He’ll need to find his timing again, but the Dodgers will benefit from a healthy Kemp whether he’s crushing Bison Blasts right away or not. With a productive and healthy Kemp in the lineup, the Dodgers could really be a force to be reckoned with.
WD: Any chance Brian Wilson and his beard make it to Chavez Ravine by the end of the season?
SW: Brian Wilson will be up to the big club sooner than you think. He may even be up within the next week or so. He’s looked great so far in his rehab starts in the minors, and he has pitched three consecutive scoreless innings so far with his next outing on Tuesday for AAA-Albuquerque. (WD: Makes me wish we had signed him, although avid readers will know that already.)
WD: Assuming the Dodgers run away with the NL West, what’s the team’s biggest weakness heading into the playoffs, and can they overcome it to make a deep postseason run?
SW: The Dodgers will need to stay healthy and shore up their defense heading into a potential playoff run. Their defense has improved, but that is still a weak spot especially with Hanley Ramirez out of the lineup right now. The number one issue will be for them to stay healthy through these final 45 games and beyond.
The Mets and Dodgers square off from Dodger Stadium tonight at 10:10 EDT, as Jenrry Mejia takes on ex-Marlin Ricky Nolasco. As Stacie mentioned, tomorrow night will feature top arms Matt Harvey and Hyun-jin Ryu, while Wednesday night pairs up Dillon Gee and former Met Chris Capuano. My thanks go out to Stacie, who you can follow on Twitter here. You can also read my answers to her questions here at Lasorda’s Lair.