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Seeing double when Dodgers, Rays meet

8/9/2013

Brian Wilson can see it from afar.

The former All-Star closer just joined the Los Angeles Dodgers organization 10 days ago -- and his closest work place to a Dodger Stadium mound was in Rancho Cucamonga -- but he has watched enough games on TV to see what’s happening.

"You can see the atmosphere has kind of changed. You watch all the teams throughout the year and kind of see a certain carryover, having a loose atmosphere, playing fun," Wilson said. "You can see they’re having a great time."

You would think a guy like Wilson, with his dramatic and ever-changing hairstyles and braided beard, might make things even more fun in the Dodgers clubhouse.

But as Wilson spoke to reporters after his first rehab outing Wednesday night, I couldn't help marveling at what a luxury he is. The Dodgers really didn't have all that urgent a need when they took a $1 million gamble to see if Wilson could give them quality relief work for the final six weeks of the season and, they hope, beyond.

During this 41-game stretch, in which the Dodgers have won 33 games, their relievers are 10-1 with a 2.88 ERA in 115 2/3 innings. Before that, they were 12-17 with a 4.67 ERA.

So, if Wilson is good, they have one more experienced setup man to get the ball to red-hot closer Kenley Jansen. If Jansen falters, Wilson might even step in. If he's not good or his arm doesn't hold up, they watch a million bills from their $216 million payroll go up in smoke. Oh well.

Of course, all teams have limitations of one sort or another. The Dodgers are practically without bounds financially, but former owner Frank McCourt left the Dodgers' minor-league system bare. Thus, the Dodgers elected to pass on any potential trades for relievers, holding onto their few premium prospects.

The Tampa Bay Rays, who visit Dodger Stadium for the first time ever this weekend, have arrived at a similar place through different means. The Rays, who are the American League version of the Dodgers -- 25-8 since June 28 -- are cash-poor, but prospect-rich.

They have a brilliant, homegrown core of starting pitchers that includes 14-game winner Matt Moore (currently injured), hard-throwing lefty David Price and 10-game winner Jeremy Hellickson. The latter two will face the Dodgers this weekend. They traded for one of the best relievers available, Jesse Crain, though he remains on the disabled list with a strained right shoulder.

If you had picked the Rays and Dodgers to play in the World Series on June 25, you would have been a visionary -- and most people would have, justifiably, thought you were nuts. So, which of the late June-and-beyond juggernauts has a better chance of playing deep into the postseason?

"Rays," said one scout. "More consistent and they have been there before." The scout said the Dodgers' hot bats will likely cool off, and "the Rays are going about it in a calmer fashion."

Another gave an edge -- a slight one -- to the Dodgers.

"If [Zack] Greinke is hot, they might be a tad better," the scout said.

A third scout came down somewhere in the middle, preferring the Rays' manager and front office, but saying, "In the end, even though the Dodgers have so many divas and are so fragile, I would still take them because of talent."

The two teams seem as balanced as any clubs in the major leagues. Price’s return from the DL sparked a run in which Tampa Bay starting pitchers went 19-3 with a 2.17 ERA. Wil Myers made his major league debut on June 18 and started off hitting .331 with seven home runs and 27 RBIs though he has cooled off since. The Dodgers got their rookie jolt from Yasiel Puig.

Both the Dodgers and Rays could get help soon without going outside their organizations. The Dodgers expect their best hitter this year, Hanley Ramirez, back any day from a jammed shoulder. They think their best hitter before this year, Matt Kemp (ankle), could rejoin them in a matter of three or four weeks.

The Rays' best starter before he took a line drive off his head on June 15, Alex Cobb, could return by season's end. Center fielder Desmond Jennings should return from a broken finger some time in September.

The Dodgers' rotation ranks second in the majors to the Pittsburgh Pirates'. The Rays' starters rank 12th.

These next three games will be an easy trip for first baseman James Loney, a longtime Dodger, and Rays manager Joe Maddon, who was an Angels coach for three decades and makes his off-season home in Long Beach. While this weekend's series will make for a strange juxtaposition of teams, it won't necessarily be an unfamiliar matchup.

In some ways, the teams are mirror images.