Dodgers Welcome Yankees Into Town

dodger_stadium_blimpshot_april-7-2013This is a sponsored post from our friends at TiqIQ.

Following a dramatic victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday in eleven innings on a Yasiel Puig homer, the Dodgers return to action on Tuesday with two home games against the New York Yankees. Following the Yankees series, the club will embark on an eight-game road trip to the Midwest to play the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals.

The Yankees will enter the game fresh off an extra-inning win themselves over the Tampa Bay Rays sparked by newcomer Alfonso Soriano. The Yankees visit to town on Tuesday marks the beginning of a long road trip out on the West Coast as the team has a one week, three city, eight-game road swing the Yankees will hope that the win on Sunday is a sign of good things to come as the team has struggled after the All-Star Break, currently sporting a 4-6 record in ten games since the break. With heated rival and division foe Boston also winning on Sunday, the Yankees remain 7.5 games back in the A.L. East. Meanwhile

The Tuesday matchup with the Yankees will mark the third time these two teams have played each other this season. In June the Dodgers visited Yankee Stadium for the first time since the 1981 World Series and despite the first game being rained out, the teams managed to play a doubleheader the next day and split the twin bill. Of course this Yankee team is not the same one as it was a month ago as captain Derek Jeter has returned from injury, and a trade for former Cubs’ outfielder Alfonso Soriano presents a much more formidable opponent to face the Dodgers. Prior to joining the team, Soriano had hit more home runs in the month of July than the entire Yankees’ roster. The Yankees’ woes at the plate have presented some problems for the second half squad, but even more so the schedule has been brutal. With trips already made to Boston and Texas before returning home to face the aforementioned Rays, the Yankees have faced three consecutive potential playoff teams. The Dodgers will offer no reprieve as they currently sit atop the N.L. West with a 55-48 record.

Unlike the Yankees, the second half has proven quite friendly to the Dodgers who unleashed a torrid six-game win streak immediately after the break and have won eight of nine games overall. The team entered the break with a meager 48-47 record but their bats have emerged to start the second half. In a three-game series in Toronto, the Dodgers scored 32 runs on an astonishing 45 hits. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez has paced the offense and the team leader in batting average (.302), home runs (15), RBIs (65), OBP (.356), and hits (114). Unfortunately for the Dodgers, Matt Kemp is back on the DL for the third time this season after injuring his ankle following a slide into home plate last week. While he has cooled down slightly, rookie Puig has continued to bat with some success and is hitting .372 with ten home runs and 23 RBIs.

Tuesday’s game will likely feature a matchup between lefty Andy Pettitte and right-handed Zack Greinke. Pettitte enters the game with a 7-8 record and a 4.39 ERA while Greinke sports an impressive 8-3 record with a 3.49 ERA. The Dodgers are performing substantially better against right-handed pitchers this year with a 38-30 record than against left-handed pitchers, 17-18. The Dodgers have been more aggressive on first pitches and the lineup appears to be more comfortably suited for righties. The Yankees on the other hand have done better against lefties than righties, indicating that both teams are going to have to adapt to the style of Pettitte and Greinke, two of the best pitchers in the game.

Game two on Wednesday pits righty Hiroki Kuroda from the Yankees up against Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers. The Yankees will face a tough task cracking Kershaw, who has been on a tear this season with a 10-6 record and a slim 1.96 ERA. Kershaw’s strength lies in his low home run rate and his ability to strike people out on a consistent basis. Perhaps some of Kershaw’s great season is due to his meager .233 BABIP, which rests well below his career average of 2.69, but there is no doubt that Kershaw has shown great command of his pitches so far this year.

Kuroda has already faced the Dodgers once this year, as he was the winning pitcher in the first matchup of the season. Kuroda gave up two runs on eight hits in 6.2 innings in his on June 19th. Kuroda has an identical to Kershaw with a 10-6 record but has been responsible for more runs but still has a respectable 2.51 ERA.

Tickets remain available for both games. While Los Angeles Dodgers tickets so far this season have gone for an average of $65 in Dodgers’ home games, the Yankees coming to town is commanding an impressive $145 series average. For Tuesday’s opener tickets are going for an average of $150, while some tickets are selling as low as $32. For the series and season finale on Wednesday, tickets are going for an average of $141 with a get-in price of $29. The increase in price might best be explained by the Yankees’ road average for tickets, which has been around a relatively expensive $123. This is the most expensive series in Los Angeles over the past three seasons.

Maybe This Is the Year That Interleague Play Isn’t Awful?

On Friday night, the Dodgers head to Seattle to kick off an interesting and lengthy portion of their schedule in more than one way. It’s not only the start of 15 consecutive interleague games – and more on that in a second – it’s the start of 11 consecutive series in which they need not travel further east than Phoenix. After leaving Seattle this weekend, they return home for sets against the Angels & White Sox before traveling to Oakland, Anaheim, & San Francisco. That’s followed by home dates against the Mets & Reds, a trip to Arizona, a brief interruption for the All-Star Break, and a home series each against the Padres & Phillies. It won’t be until July 20, when they head to New York to play the Mets, that the club will be forced to go on a serious road trip.

So while that’s set up well for a banged-up roster, the two-plus solid weeks of interleague play is problematic, since the Dodgers traditionally struggle against their interleague brethren. Since 1997, the only teams with a poorer winning percentage in interleague play than the .456 clip the Dodgers have played at are the Orioles, Royals, Diamondbacks, Pirates, & Padres. No surprise there – those clubs are hardly the elite group of the game, and with the exception of a bright spot or two from Arizona those teams generally lose consistently no matter what league their opponents are from.

Among the many issues for the club in that time has been their difficulty in filling out the designated hitter role. We talked about this last year, joking that the Dodgers could barely find eight MLB-quality hitters each day, much less nine:

But what about this year? Is it really a good thing for the Dodgers to have yet another bat in the lineup? Now, instead of choosing between one of Russ Mitchell or Jay Gibbons or Juan Castro or Tony Gwynn – part of a collection that Steve Dilbeck half-jokingly called one of the worst benches ever– each day, the Dodgers get the “benefit” of having multiple variations of them in at a time.

Is that really an upgrade on having the pitcher hit? Hell, Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley have each been more dangerous at the plate this year than Gibbons, Mitchell, and Castro. Hiroki Kuroda can at least lay down an excellent bunt when he’s called upon to do so, which is more than we can say for most of these other guys. I’m mostly being facetious here, but only mostly. While other NL teams are going to add another bench bat or markedly improve their defense by taking a glove away from an Aubrey Huff or Jason Giambi or Jonny Gomes, the Dodgers will have the fine pleasure of adding little to no value at all to their lineup.

Five of the nine starts in AL parks ended up going to Marcus Thames, Trent Oeltjen, & Gibbons; the Dodgers went 6-9 overall. That’s generally been the case historically for the club, as well; the two Dodgers who have made more than seven starts in the role are Olmedo Saenz, who hit just .190/.271/.286 in 18 starts, and Dave Hansen, who hit .257/.372/.343 in 11 tries.

Will this year be different? For once, the Dodgers have a roster that might be conducive to the additional spot, since Bobby Abreu & Juan Rivera are each players who you’d love to see without a glove on whenever possible; in addition, Don Mattingly says that Andre Ethier will get at least one start at DH this weekend. That should hopefully allow both more regular playing time in the outfield corners for Alex Castellanos and a way to keep regular playing time for Elian Herrera, Jerry Hairston, & Juan Uribe, once Uribe returns next week to further muddle the infield picture. (It’ll also lead to at least one game where Adam Kennedy DH’s, I can almost guarantee, which will just be infuriating.)

DH issues aside, the Dodgers are fortunate to draw Seattle & Oakland this year rather than Texas, entertaining though it may have been to see them test themselves against the best team in the AL. Then again, the Angels are playing much, much better than they had been in April and the White Sox are shocking everyone by leading the AL Central, so once again interleague play is going to present a tough challenge.

Is this finally the year that they break their usual interleague curse? So far, the 2012 edition of this team has been able to handle every other obstacle that’s been thrown in their way. If they want to prove they truly deserve the elite status that their record bestows, holding their own with the American League would be a good way to do it.

When Adding a Designated Hitter Isn’t All That Helpful

Tonight, interleague play starts yet again, and if you’re not over the moon about the prospect of the Diamondbacks renewing that eternal rivalry with the Twins, you’re not alone. The Dodgers head into Chicago for a three game series against the White Sox, and since it’s an American League park, that means we’ll be seeing the designated hitter in use for the first time all year.

For most NL teams, that’s a nice bonus. Instead of watching their pitchers flail helplessly, they get to pump up their offense by letting a bench bat get some time, or give a half-breather to a productive hitter, or improve their defense by getting a big bat off the field without losing his hitting. That’s generally how the Dodgers have played it in the past; in 2010, Manny Ramirez DH’d in all six games, while in 2009 it was split between Mark Loretta, Mitch Jones, and Russell Martin.

That made sense in previous years. Manny’s power bat/poor glove profile was an obvious fit for the spot, while Loretta was a bench platoon hitter and Martin received a day off from catching. But what about this year? Is it really a good thing for the Dodgers to have yet another bat in the lineup? Now, instead of choosing between one of Russ Mitchell or Jay Gibbons or Juan Castro or Tony Gwynn – part of a collection that Steve Dilbeck half-jokingly called one of the worst benches ever – each day, the Dodgers get the “benefit” of having multiple variations of them in at a time.

Is that really an upgrade on having the pitcher hit? Hell, Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley have each been more dangerous at the plate this year than Gibbons, Mitchell, and Castro. Hiroki Kuroda can at least lay down an excellent bunt when he’s called upon to do so, which is more than we can say for most of these other guys. I’m mostly being facetious here, but only mostly. While other NL teams are going to add another bench bat or markedly improve their defense by taking a glove away from an Aubrey Huff or Jason Giambi or Jonny Gomes, the Dodgers will have the fine pleasure of adding little to no value at all to their lineup.

Man, I hate interleague play.

******

Plenty of billboard talk today. Via 6-4-2, Yahoo’s Tim Brown tells us how the advertising space for the mugshot billboards of Bryan Stow’s attackers was donated, and here’s a group who is trying to put up anti-McCourt billboards around the stadium.