If you’re getting the feeling like it’s been a long time since the Tigers have played in LA against the Dodgers, you are not wrong. It has actually been a whopping eight years since the last time the Tigers played at Dodger Stadium, and with the exception of Miguel Cabrera and Clayton Kershaw, not much looks the same between these two clubs.
Because the Tigers so rarely see the Dodgers, we especially wanted to get some expert insight, so we reached out to the managing editor of our sister site True Blue LA, Eric Stephen, to get his opinions about the Dodgers season and this upcoming series.
BYB: The NL West is an interesting division so far this year with (as of this writing) four teams over .500. Is this just early season good luck for some clubs, or do you see this being a tight division all season? And if so, where do you expect the Dodgers to end up when it’s all said and done?
TBLA: I’m not sold on the Rockies being very good, but they can at least hang around .500. The Padres are for real, have pitching depth, and hiring Bob Melvin was a solid choice after last year’s collapse. I think the division will be a three-team race between the Dodgers, Giants, and Padres. San Francisco has a lot of depth, such that an obvious statement like “I don’t think the Giants will win 107 games again” makes me just a little bit uneasy in predicting such a thing. That said, I do think the Dodgers are the best of the bunch and will win the division, but that all three teams will make the postseason.
BYB: Do you think winning the Series in 2020 has taken any pressure off the team, or do you feel like there’s a perceived need to prove they can do it again.
TBLA: Yes and no. The vibe would be very bad had they not won the 2020 World Series, with everyone still bringing up that they haven’t won since 1988, and Dave Roberts might even be fighting for his job in what would have been his last year. But now Roberts has an extension and some security, and doesn’t have to worry about such things. However, the general thought the last few years has been championship or bust, basically. Roberts even guaranteed a World Series win in a radio interview in March, which is out of character for him, and has doubled down on that prediction numerous times when asked about it since.
BYB: Serious question… would you have left Kershaw in?
TBLA: I would have left Kershaw in, because perfect games are rad, and would have added a little something extra to his already stellar career. But at the same time, I knew there was no way he was going to complete that game, given his elbow injury last year, PRP injection in the offseason, and mostly rest until January. The longest he went in spring training was a five-inning simulated game. I still would have left him in as long as he said he felt fine, until he gave up a hit. But any sort of angst I might have worked up at the decision by Roberts to remove him pretty much vanished once I saw Kershaw’s acceptance of the move both in the dugout and in postgame interviews, as well as talking about it the next day once the team was back in Los Angeles.
BYB: Speaking of Kershaw, a lot of people felt like this season was sort of an unofficial farewell tour for him, but he’s seemed to have a lot of his old spark back. In your opinion is he headed for 2023 retirement, or can we expect to see more of him?
TBLA: Winning the World Series is still the main goal for Kershaw, and that’s what kept him from joining Texas this season, where he could have pitched home games basically 20 minutes from his house. I don’t think he’s ready for retirement just yet, and as long as the Dodgers are very good they’d have the inside track on keeping him around. The Rangers were the only other team he considered this offseason, but Texas isn’t quite good enough yet to lure him there. If I had to pick Kershaw’s team for 2023, I’d say Dodgers, but I think he will go year to year, and the Dodgers will be okay with that as a deference to Kershaw, having made known they don’t want him to leave.
BYB: One month into the season, how do you feel about the move to a universal DH?
TBLA: I do like not having pitchers hit anymore, but I will admit that it takes a while to get used to. I’ve watched loads of American League games over the years, but I’m mostly a National League guy at heart, so wondering when the pitcher’s spot is due up is an old habit to break. The DH does help the Dodgers specifically because of their depth, as they sort of rotate players in and out of the spot. Justin Turner, who is 37 years old, has started the most times at DH this year, seven times in 18 games, but nobody has been the DH two games in a row yet.
BYB: Which Dodgers player do you think will be the biggest menace for the Tigers this series?
TBLA: Will Smith seems to always hit the ball hard, and finally got some results his last two games with a home run and three-run double in Arizona. He’ll probably catch two of the three games, and though he’ll probably start DHing once in a while soon (he hasn’t done so yet this season).
BYB: Which Tigers player do you think will be the biggest problem for the Dodgers?
TBLA: I’ve got my eye on Eduardo Rodriguez, because he’s very good, but also the Dodgers have done very little against left-handed pitchers this season. It’s not that they don’t have the personnel to hit lefties, it’s just that they haven’t yet produced, hitting just .216/.295/.324 with an 87 wRC+ against southpaws. Tyler Alexander would also qualify as a problem for the same reason, but I’m too excited about the Friday battle of Tyler John A. lefties to be worried about matchups.
Thank you so much to Eric for taking the time to chat with us. If you want to read more of his work, head over to True Blue LA.