Ahead of the Rays' very first series in Dodger Stadium, we sat down with True Blue LA's David Lauterbach to talk Yasiel Puig, pitching match ups, the secrets to success, and old friends now on the Dodgers.
DRB: Right now, the Rays are scheduled to face Chris Capuano, TBD, and Clayton Kershaw. Of course we've heard of Kershaw over here on the East Coast, but he's more of a mythic monster than a pitcher. Give us a breakdown of each of those guys. What do they through, how do they get guys out? What should Rays fans expect to see?
DL: Capuano, TBD, and Kershaw are great guys, TBD specifically. But anyway, Capuano is an interesting guy. He pitched really well last season up until about August. Then he didn't do so well.
As for this season, he's been even more interesting to follow. He wasn't really in the starting rotation until May because of the other starters the Dodgers had; but since he's joined, he's been a very random pitcher. Capuano has given up five runs in five starts, three in one, one in two, and zero in five. So essentially, Capuano has given up five runs in five starts and three or fewer in seven.
In his last eight starts, however, he has truly been hit or miss. Capuano has given up five runs three times and zero runs five times. It'll be interesting to see which Capuano shows up against Tampa Bay.
As for TBD, I'm guessing that it'll be Greinke starting. I say that because Greinke last started on Monday and would've had four and a half days off between starts. It would also technically be Greinke's "turn in the rotation."
Greinke's ERA, I honestly think, doesn't reflect the kind of pitcher he's been this season. He has never give up more than five runs in a start, and has only give up four or five runs seven times (he's started 18 times this season). In ever other start, Greinke has given up zero, one, or two runs. That means in 11 of his 18 starts, Greinke has given up two runs or fewer. He's also been pitching very well since his July 3rd start when he gave up five earned runs. In his six starts since than, he's given up a total of nine runs.
And yeah, Kershaw is a mythic monster. His curveball is filthy and his run support is horrendous.
Jon Weisman used to run a Dodgers blog on ESPN.com, but now he runs it over at dodgerthoughts.com. After LA beat St. Louis 13-4 on Wednesday (August 8th), Weisman pointed out that "The Dodgers now have scored more runs tonight than they have scored for Clayton Kershaw in the past month."
DRB: Wow, no run support for Kershaw at all, huh?
DL: None at all. It's possibly the most frustrating thing ever.
Kershaw gets the fourth-lowest run support in the league at 3.13. On the flip side, Hyun-Jin Ryu gets the 11th most at 5.18. This is why Kershaw's 10-7 record doesn't truly describe the kind of pitcher he is. Instead, his 1.91 ERA and 0.88 WHIP does. Let's just say Kershaw is filthy and definitely, in my mind, the best pitcher in the game right now.
DRB: While the Rays were streaking, LA's went on a been on a bit of streak itself, and are well positioned for the playoffs. What's been the key to the Dodgers' success?
I was actually asked the same question by the Reds' SBNation blog, Red Reporter last week. Here's what I told them:
Here is an interest fact to describe why injuries caused their bad start... Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Hanley Ramirez have all been in the STARTING lineup together just ONCE this season. That occurred on July 21st when the Dodgers beat the Nationals 9-2 and Kemp injured his ankle.
The five of them have played in the same game a couple other times this season, but have only been in the same starting lineup together just once. In that same game, Yasiel Puig had the day off.
In short, injuries. When three of your biggest hitters (Crawford, Ramirez, and Kemp) are injured for pretty much the entire first half, it's tough to play well. Especially if you don't call up someone like Puig to take their place until June 22nd.
So in a sense, being healthy and getting Puig has lead to their success.
DRB: How do you like our boys Carl Crawford and J.P. Howell? Are the treating you well? Are you treating them well?
DL: When the Dodgers and Red Sox completed that huge trade, I was happy they got Beckett and mad they got Crawford. I think the complete opposite now.
Crawford has been great. While he has dealt with a couple injuries, I love having him in the outfield. I love his speed and range and I really think he has solved the Dodgers' leadoff problem.
DRB: That's funny, considering he was really the No. 2 hitter with the Rays. I think he stopped batting first when Stu Sternberg bought the team.
DL: Yeah, I know that must sound weird because a lot of people don't see him as a leadoff man. But with Puig behind him, I think the Dodgers' have one of the best one-two leadoff punches in the game.
I really liked the Howell signing at the time and I like it even more now. The lefty has a 2.11 ERA and 40 strike outs in 47 innings this season. That's exactly the kind of production I hoped for when LA signed him. Him and Paco Rodriguez have both been great this season and because they can attack right handers as well, I think it makes both of them even more valuable to this team.
DRB: Howell was a starter with the Rays in 2006 and '07, so I guess it's not a surprise, but is it true that our old closer has fulfilled his destiny as a longman?
DL: He can, he often pitches two, maybe three innings.
DRB: Would you say that Howell's defining moment of the season is when he tried to throw Turner Ward over the railing into the Diamondbacks dugout?
DL: Haha, either that or his dominance the last month-ish.
DRB: How do you feel about calling that big huge trade, "The Punto Trade"?
DL: I'm not a huge fan, because A-Gon has been the best player in it. Haha, but if you want to call it that, that's fine.
DRB: Speacking of trades, apparently Miami is where one goes to acquire a shortstop. We Rays fans have enjoyed our bit of loot in Yunel Escobar, but Hanley Ramirez has been ridiculous. How has he managed to slide under the radar while having arguably his best season ever?
DL: In short, because of Yasiel Puig. While Puig and him do have very similar numbers (.361 AVG, 11 HR, 37 RBI for Ramirez and .372 AVG, 11 HR, 25 RBI for Puig), Hanley has been more crucial to this team's offense because of his position in the lineup and his ability to drive guys in.
In my mind, Puig got the Dodgers back into the hunt for the division while Hanley gave them the division lead. Puig gets on base and scores a lot, Hanley gets on base after driving in a lot of guys. That's how I see the two of them. And honestly, if he comes back soon from his injury and plays well, I wouldn't be surprised to see Hanley in the top ten of NL MVP vote getters.
DRB: Yasiel Puig. Are you tired of talking about him?
DL: The day I get tired talking about Puig will be the day he retires. After he hit his first homer, I bought his shirt because for some reason, I just love the guy. He's a goofball that loves to play the game and plays it very well. At the same time, I just love talking about how so many teams and players don't like him. Honestly, if someone like Puig was on teams where players don't like him, they would think the opposite. How could you not like a player that plays the game with so much intensity he doesn't care if he runs into a brick wall?
DRB: We've got a guy like that named Sam Fuld! He's got reckless abandon in the outfield and I love it, but I'm not wishing a future as a back up outfielder on your boy. Answer this: Yasiel Puig is the next _______?
DL: Evan Longoria! Just kidding.
He's the next Vladimir Guerrero, but with a little less power, more speed, and better defense. Guerrero averaged 28 home runs and 94 RBIs over his career. I think Puig could average around the same numbers, but won't put up 40 home run 110+ RBI seasons like Guerrero did.
I could see Puig consistently putting up 25-35 HR, 90-105 RBI, 20-30 stolen base seasons.
DRB: The next Vladdy is an incredibly guy to build around. The Dodgers were quiet at the trade deadline. Good, bad, or indifferent?
DL: Good and bad. I don't think this team really needed anything, but at the same time they did.
The Dodgers have had more injuries this year than I can remember. Trading for someone like Bud Norris would've been nice, but not at a high price. Getting someone who could be a fifth starter or long reliever like Norris for a low-level prospect would've been nice for insurance reason.
At the same time, getting a third baseman would've been nice too. But as for what they did, I think doing nothing was fine. They didn't need anything bad enough to give up a top prospect.
DRB: With as much as the Dodgers have spent, I'd imagine they need to hold on to as many prospects as possible.
The Rays guard their prospects carefully, are a team that must watch its budget carefully, and that situation is unlikely to change. On the other hand, the Dodgers filed for bankruptcy, and then went out and acquired some of the best and most expensive free agents on the market. What gives?
DL: The difference between the Rays money issues and the Dodgers is that the Rays don't have a horrible owner that takes money from the team to pay his sons, buy houses, and fund his divorce. That's the big difference. My version of "he who must not be named" was a horrible owner and if he owned the Rays and did the same thing, I honestly think Tampa Bay wouldn't have a team anymore or would go 0-162.
DRB: Enter Magic Johnson.
DL: The time will come for the Rays, but in the end, I'm a purist. I would rather watch a home grown team that succeeds rather than a team that is super expensive.
DRB: Well speaking of a home grown team that succeeds, do you have a series prediction?
DL: Dodgers take two of three. If Greinke pitches that second game, maybe even a sweep. I say that because the three games are in LA and Dodger Stadium has been crazy lately. Capuano and Kershaw have been on hot streaks (knock on wood) and the Dodgers' hitters love hitting at the Ravine. At the same time however, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Rays' pitchers dominate and take two of three.
DRB: Thanks for your time, David!
David Lauterbach is a writer for True Blue LA, an aspiring broadcaster, and a student in journalism at Syracuse.