The Dodgers begin a three game set with the Cardinals on Tuesday afternoon. The pitching match-up for the first game will have Lance Lynn battling Clayton Kershaw. Mike Leake will take on Rich Hill in the second game, and Michael Wacha is scheduled to counter Kenta Maeda who will be returning from the disabled list in the series finale. The Cardinals enter the series with the Dodgers in second place in the NL central with a 22-19 record and a couple of games behind first place Milwaukee. The Dodgers are 26-19 and 2.5 games behind in the NL West.
With the Dodgers and Cardinals getting ready to do battle at Chavez Ravine what better time to reach out to our good friend Daniel Shoptaw of C70 at the bat which is a part of Cardsonclave. Daniel is the founder of the baseball blogger alliance, host of playing pepper (which we have been a participant of for several years) and a good friend. We virtually sat down to talk to Daniel about the upcoming series and what’s been going on with the Cards in 2017. In return, Daniel offered us some questions about the Dodgers as well.
- Tell me about this new Korean hurler you guys have? Why is Trevor Rosenthal not closing games anymore?
Seung-hwan Oh was signed by the Cardinals before last season and started off 2016 as a valuable 8th inning man having plenty of closing experience in Korea and Japan. When Rosenthal struggled to start last season, Oh eventually came in and replaced Rosie as the closer and did an impeccable job while doing so. Unsurprisingly, Oh retained the closer job this year while Rosenthal looked to prove that he was back to form.
There was some idea that the Cards would use him in a similar fashion as Andrew Miller was used in the playoffs last year, but Rosenthal tweaked some muscles in spring training and since then the club has been hesitant to use him too much. When he has been used, he’s been pretty dominant. He had a tough outing against the Red Sox, but that was partially due to some questionable calls that turned a strikeout into a walk and set the inning going the wrong way.
As for Oh, he’s not been as dominant this year for the Cards–he blew a save just Friday–but he’s still be reliable in the ninth for the most part. If he scuffles too much, I don’t think St. Louis will hesitate long before flipping him and Rosenthal again.
- Tell us about a couple of the new talented young Cardinals this year. Who do you think has been the most valuable youngster?
The Cardinals don’t have a lot of youngsters, as it were. Most everyone that is on the club has been here for a year or more. Alex Reyes would have been a nice answer here had he not had Tommy John surgery in the spring and been lost for the season. Due to a spate of injuries, the Cardinals recently had Magneuris Sierra, a player that impressed in spring but was playing at High-A Palm Beach, on the roster. Sierra more than held his own and brought an element of speed to the club. However, given where he was in development, it was not surprising that when Jhonny Peralta returned this past weekend, Sierra was sent back to the minors, albeit this time to AA Springfield.
- Why did the Cardinals sign Dexter Fowler, and how much of an impact has he made on the club this year?
There were a lot of reasons the club signed Dexter Fowler. They didn’t have a true center fielder, though Randal Grichuk could handle the position if necessary. They believed Fowler would bring a great OBP presence to the top of the lineup and combine especially with Matt Carpenter to be a really potent threat in the first innings of games. They also hoped his personality and demeanor might lighten up a clubhouse that was a pretty serious one over the past few years.
Fowler got off to a slow start on the field, but has been more of what we expected in May. I don’t think the lineup has produced like folks dreamed it would after signing Fowler, but he’s also brought some pop to the squad that was unexpected as well. Fowler’s already a well-liked Cardinal and I don’t see that changing any time soon.
- Wainright and Molina are getting old, but they keep trucking along. Have they lost a step?
It’d be fair to say they have. Wainwright’s season has been pretty atrocious until his last two starts, when he looked more like the Wainwright we’re used to seeing in outings against the Cubs and Giants. It really feels like there’s always going to be some uncertainty when Waino takes the mound from now on. Some days he’s going to have it working, some days he’s going to struggle. He’s more like the crafty veteran that has to really think about what he’s doing than the ace that he’s been, but hopefully he’s on the right path to at least being decent the rest of the season.
As for Molina, he played an inspired World Baseball Classic but that hasn’t completely carried over to the regular season, which isn’t surprising. He’s still got a fairly solid bat–he hit two homers on Mother’s Day–and the defense is perhaps not as otherworldly as it has been, but he’s still plenty good enough for you. His game instincts, focus, and baseball intelligence has not been dimmed at all, I can tell you that.
- I see Matt Carpenter has moved to first. What happened to Matt Adams?
Adams has dealt with injury and less-than-stellar play over the last couple of seasons, but the move for Carpenter was more about the fact that the club felt he was better at first than any other infield position. Defense is not Carpenter’s strong suit and we’ve seen issues from him over at the cold corner as well, but his bat has to be in the lineup and that seemed like the least damaging spot. It’s also allowed for Jedd Gyorko to play most every day at third base and he’s continued his power surge from last year. This weekend, the Cardinals traded Adams to the Braves in a move that was probably overdue. Adams is a great bat to have off the bench, but he’s good enough to play every day somewhere as well.
- The Cubs have been average this year, and the Reds have fallen out of first place. The Brewers seem to be the team to beat for the moment. How do you think the Cardinals rank in the NL Central, and why do you think they’ve fallen back to second place?
The Brewers are a pretty good team, but I’d be surprised if they were quite ready to make that step of winning the division this year. I could be wrong, but I expect them to fall back. I always thought the Cubs would have trouble with their pitching staff and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them upgrade that somewhere along the line. The Cardinals, honestly, have enough flaws that it wouldn’t be surprising to see them finish second or third, but they also have the talent that they could win what has been a mediocre NL Central. I still believe the Cubs will come around and win the division, but the Cardinals may be closer to unseating them than a lot of folks expected when the season began.
1) As we start this discussion, the Dodgers are 26-19, tied with Arizona for second behind Colorado. What’s gone right so far this season and what hasn’t?
What has gone right for the Dodgers this year has been their relief pitching which has been tremendously good for the most part. The middle relief has been great. Generally speaking the pitching is good. The defense has been poor, and the offense at times has been dreadful. The Dodgers win because their core group of players are very talented. Guys like Kershaw, Jansen, Puig, Pederson, Turner, Seager, and Grandal are very gifted players. The offense has definitely perked up in recent weeks. Relief pitching, on-base skills and the bench have been the strengths so far. The first few weeks of the season brutal though with one one or two series wins over the first five weeks.
As for what’s gone wrong I can just point you back to the 2016 season to have those questions answered. The Dodgers have the same problems from last year that were never addressed. They can’t hit left handed pitching, and the starting pitchers are unable to provide adequate innings.
When the starting staff is unable to go past the fifth inning it puts a great burden of work on the bullpen. By August or September everyone is gassed or hurt and nobody has anything left for the playoffs. Last year Kershaw and Jansen had to carry the club into the NLCS on their backs but they can’t do it alone. They need help. Unfortunately the front office is so small market minded they are unable to realize that there is an easier way of doing things where you are allowed to acquire healthy durable starting pitchers that can give you 6-8 innings per start.
Oh and also the injuries. Everyone gets hurt constantly on this club. But again when management continuously acquires injury riddled pitchers with long and established histories of injuries and inconsistency than it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody.
2) Clayton Kershaw is still Clayton Kershaw, but the rest of the rotation seems a bit hit or miss. Is there anyone else that you trust when they take the ball every fifth day?
Not really. If I were to choose someone it would probably be southpaw Alex Wood. He’s been fantastic of late, (recently winning NL player of the week award). His domination over the last few weeks has been a lot of fun to watch as he builds arm strength and develops his command. Unfortunately like all of the rest of the starters, he is unable to pitch past the fifth inning. The rest of the starters are either unable to as well, or are not allowed to by management. No matter what in every game no starter other than Kershaw will be pitching 4-6 innings. This is every day.
3) After Corey Seager last year, the Dodgers seem to have found another great young talent in Cody Bellinger. What are the thought on the rest of his season? Has he had to make adjustments yet or has the league still not caught up with him?
Not yet. But that’s coming soon. So far these first couple of months are going to be icing on the cake for the super kid. The National League has never seen him before, so for the first couple of months they’re going to challenge Bellinger. This is the time for him to be raking, and he is. The adjustments from the league will come soon, and so will his. But he is able to make those adjustments on the fly. We’ve seen him do it in the minors, and his instincts at the big league level are top notch. This kid is ridiculously talented, and I expect for him to continue to be scorching the ball during this initial period until the league makes the first adjustments.
4) Justin Turner was off to a great start before landing on the DL. How much is his loss going to hurt the team?
The Dodgers will miss him Tremendously. Turner is the heart and soul of the Dodgers. Period. He’s beloved in the clubhouse, beloved by all fans, and one of the best third baseman in all of baseball. He hits, hits for power, plays amazing defense at third, and bats third in the lineup every day. He makes the Dodger’s offense go, and losing him for any extended amount of time is a huge crushing blow for the Dodgers. I get worked up just writing this. We miss our red dream.
5) What’s the weak spot in the lineup, if there is one?
Lack of speed and athleticism, and mediocre power to start the season. The Dodgers rank in the middle of the pack in power (17th in home runs) slugging, OPS etc.
The problem has been that every time there is a left hander on the mound opposing them, management puts the bench guys in the lineup. Some of the lineups put out have been horrible, and it’s a huge weakness. I have always felt that the regulars can hit left handers if given the chance. I prefer a set lineup to all of this lineup shuffling anyways. However the front office loves triple-A castoffs and light hitting utility players. When a left hander is on the mound expect for all of them to be in the lineup.
I joke a little, but the bench has actually been very good. Chris Taylor has reinvented himself, Kike has finally stopped being an automatic out, and Austin Barnes is very good. Even Chase Utley has started to hit again. The Dodgers are still a good club.
6) What’s your prediction for this series?
I’ll say the Dodgers take 2 of 3 since the series is at home. However if this was at Busch then it would probably be reversed. But the series could go either way because the Cards are pretty good too.