In advance of this four-game set, the first time the Cubs have played the Dodgers since almost a full year ago (August 5, 2012 was the last Cubs/Dodgers game, and LA hasn't been at Wrigley since May 6, 2012, and there have been lots of changes for the Dodgers as well as the Cubs since then), I asked David Lauterbach of our SB Nation Dodgers site True Blue LA some questions about the current N.L. West leader. You can check out True Blue LA today; I answered some questions for them, too.
BCB: What do you think caused the Dodgers' bad start this year, and what are the reasons for their resurgence?
TBL: Injuries, injuries, and more injuries. I didn't expect the Dodgers to be that bad with that many injuries, but I wasn't surprised they weren't in first place. 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 21 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 22.
The reason they have made a come back is the opposite; they haven't had as many injuries (knock on wood) since they all started to come back. Despite Kemp and Crawford going back on the DL a couple times, Puig and Ramirez have helped this team perform better and win more games. At the same time, the pitching staff has also been very good, and contributed to the team's come back. Los Angeles' pitchers have a combined 3.53 ERA this season, which is the fifth best in the MLB. From July 1 through July 29, the Dodgers posted a 2.61 ERA (second best in MLB behind the Rays) and an 18-5 record. Once again, in short, pitching and the return of key hitters has made it possible for them to climb back into the playoff race.
BCB: Do you expect the Dodgers to continue their good play and win the N.L. West? If not, do you think they'd hang on for a wild card spot?
TBL: Continue their good (possibly great play as of late), no. Win the N.L. West, yes. If not the West, I think they have a shot at a wild card spot. As for the division, I think it'll come down to Arizona and Los Angeles. The reason why I think the Dodgers will end up on top is because they have more talent, more depth, and an easier schedule. LA's August is much easier than the Diamondbacks', while both of their Septembers are pretty even. Los Angeles has a ton of hitting depth, and a good amount of pitching depth as well. Arizona, on the other hand, does not. They have a lot of injuries in their bullpen and not as much hitting depth as LA does.
If the Dodgers don't win the division, I think they have a good shot at winning a wild card spot. The Dodgers come into this series 1½ games behind Cincinnati for the second wild card spot in the National League. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh are in what I believe is the toughest division in MLB, the NL Central. As a result, I wouldn't be surprised if one of those teams falter and whoever doesn't win the NL West wins the second wild card.
BCB: Carlos Marmol. Will the Dodgers be able to "fix" him?
TBL: Maybe... but only if he stays in the major leagues. The Dodgers just signed Brian Wilson; to me, Wilson has a little more promise than Marmol. Wilson underwent surgery over a year ago and can still throw in the low to mid 90s. Marmol, on the other hand, wasn't sent to the minors because of an injury. Instead, he was sent there because he was pitching horribly in the majors, as I'm sure you know.. If Wilson pitches well in the minors and makes it to the majors quickly, I wouldn't be surprised if the Dodgers sent Marmol back down. There, they might try to fix him. But if Wilson does well and LA doesn't need to bring Marmol back up, I don't know if we will ever see if they successfully "fixed" him.
BCB: What's the biggest difference between the McCourt ownership of the Dodgers and the new ownership group headed by Magic Johnson?
TBL: This is a really tough one because there are a TON of differences. I want to say money, but I'm not going to. Instead, I'm going to go with the word "ownership." I know that sounds really weird, but I'm going to explain it. When McCourt owned the team, I felt as though he truly exploited the team and he abused his power as the team's owner. According to multiple reports, McCourt used the team's charity's money for his own personal use, put his kids on the team's payroll, and used the team's money to fund his divorce. Just because you own the team does not give you the right to use the team's money for your own personal gain.
When it comes to the new ownership group, yes, they do own the team. But they don't "own" it like McCourt did. This new group has given the team back to Los Angeles by promising the city and fan base a winning team while actually giving it to them. McCourt said many times that he wanted to bring a World Series championship back to LA. Well, he almost followed through in 2008 and 2009 when they went to back-to-back NLCS. But the difference between those teams and the current one is that the 2008 and 2009 teams were mostly built on players he didn't trade for or signed (minus Manny Ramirez). This year's team is built on players the new ownership signed and traded for.. I know this isn't too organized of a thought (much like the organization was when McCourt owned them), but in the end, the main thing that sets them apart is that McCourt abused his ownership powers and took the team away from its fans. The new ownership group has not only given the team back to its fans, but also done many things to improve the organization as a whole that McCourt never did after making promises that he would (international signings, improving stadium, improving team, etc.).
BCB: Is Yasiel Puig really THAT good?
TBL: I wish. I love Puig, don't get me wrong. But is he really going to hit .370 over his career with a ton of homers and RBIs? No. Do I think he is going to be a solid .300 hitter with 25-35 homers and 100ish RBIs consistently? Yes. I met Keith Law the other day, asked him the same question and he made a couple good points. Puig is playing on another level with a ton of energy, excitement, and adrenaline. Nobody can keep that up over a 162-game season. Teams will adjust to him, and he to them. But after this season, and maybe the first half of next season, Puig will become the player that he will be over the course of his career. What I mean by that is he will take it down a notch (but not to far) and teams will figure out how to contain him. That being said, I wouldn't be surprised if Puig played better than I mentioned above. But is he going to be as good as he is now over the course of his career? Absolutely not.