by Adam Goudchaux, Contributing Writer and Loyal Dodgers Fan
In my last blog I wrote the Dodgers needed to go out and get a 3rd baseman to fill Juan Uribe’s tiny shoes…most of the experts and sports outlets were reporting that Aramis Ramirez was the guy the Dodgers would likely land. They got a Ramirez alright. A much better Ramirez. That would be Hanley freakin’ Ramirez who is now holding court in the hot corner for the Los Angeles Dodgers in case you need him. Thus far he isn’t just holding that court, he’s outright burning it up.
The once touted Miami Marlins 3B/SS, who had absolute superstar numbers in 2009: .342 Avg. 24 HR 106 RBI and 27 SB, which led to a batting title and finishing 2nd in MVP votes, fell on hard and harder times in 2010-2011. In the latter he played only 92 games due to a lower back injury that left him with a .243, 10 and 45 year. That trend, unfortunately, continued this season as his numbers before he got to the Dodgers .246, 14 HR, 48 RBI, 14 SB, were not good enough for the Marlins to justify his $15 million salary.
The Dodgers agreed to take on that salary and trade 22 year-old pitching prospect Nathan Eovaldi in the process. Don’t think the thought hasn’t crossed my mind… Pedro Martinez for Delino DeShields anybody? Nathan Eovaldi, whose scouting report reads: “a hard-throwing, easy-armed righthander developed as a premium Dodger prospect. With a 94mph fastball that looks effortless…” undoubtedly will be the next HOF pitcher the Dodgers let slip through their grasp. I kid…hopefully.
If early indications mean anything, who cares? The change of scenery seems to have done Hanley good. In five games with the Dodgers he’s batting .333 with 7 RBI and one BIG home run. That big home run coming at the hands of the hated Giants, in the 10th inning, of a must-win game, on a breaking ball, off a pitcher who had allowed a total of two home runs all year. Here’s Ramirez, thrown in the middle of a heated rivalry, in a pressure cooker pennant race and he crushes one into the left field stands like it ain’t no thang. And damn does he have a sweet swing. I had no idea his swing was that pretty. Andre Ethier’s used to be the prettiest on the Dodgers, but I think Hanley has passed him by.
And I’ll be “Diddley-Eyed Joe to Damned-If-I-Know” if he doesn’t look fantastic in Dodger Blue. It’s as if the classic uni was made for him.
Hanley’s production over the last five games has helped the Dodgers climb back to a tie with the Giants in the NL West, including a series sweep this past weekend over the hated ones. His mere presence in the Dodger clubhouse has seemed to reinvigorate the entire team. The Dodgers appear to be having fun again.
Hanley was a gigantic pickup and one that shows players and fans that Dodgers ownership mean business when they say they want to win NOW. And all indications are that the Dodgers aren’t done. They have at least one and possibly two big trades they are looking to pull off prior to Tuesday’s trade deadline. Three pitchers: Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster and James Shields, and two left-fielders, Shane Victorino and Alfonso Soriano, are in the mix. If the Dodgers get Shields and Soriano…you can rubber stamp their name on the pennant for the next three years.
It’s not just Hanley who is making the surge possible. Several other factors are involved, which bring up several question marks.
1) The pitching performances they got from Stephen Fife, Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw over the weekend can’t be overlooked. The three and the pen combined for a total of 3 earned runs, including back to back shutouts of the Giants for the first time since 1957. We all know the adage: arms, not bats win games in the post-season and Kershaw’s act Sunday was a nice vote of confidence in that regard. His 9 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 7 K masterpiece was a welcome sight coming off of the worst outing of his career, 8 earned runs, in his previous start. Kershaw looked like the Kershaw that won the triple crown of pitching last season, though his fastball wasn’t vintage, his curve ball and changeup certainly were.
2) The Bullpen (??): Manager Don Mattingly and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt have performed great surgical feats in dealing with the revolving closer door and injuries in the pen all year. There appears to be 7th, 8th and 9th innings continuity now with Javy Guerra, Ronald Bellisario and Kenley Jansen respectively filling the roles. Situational appearances by Randy Choate (also acquired in the Ramirez deal), Josh Lindblom and Jamey Wright fill the gaps. Nevertheless, I still don’t trust Jansen. He makes things too interesting in the 9th and has 5 blown saves out of 25 opportunities. I don’t know why, but his stellar numbers: 1.89 ERA, 20 SV, 72 SO in 47.2 IP, 13.59 K/9 do nothing to change my opinion. He’s untested in the post-season and closing games in the playoffs is an entirely different animal.
3) And then there’s Cruz, Luis Cruz that is. He continues to play stellar shortstop in relief of the injured Dee Gordon. His value in this Dodger resurgence can’t be underestimated. If he keeps this up, Dee will be relegated to pinch-runner. Cruz is doing it with the glove and the bat, now hitting a whopping .364 with runners in scoring position.
4) Murderer’s Row combo 3-4-5- combo of Kemp, Ethier, and Ramirez. So if the starting pitching continues as it did this weekend, the bullpen continues to live up to their ridiculous numbers, and the combo featuring two of the three best five tool players in the game, produce as they should, you have a team that rightfully will strike fear in the hearts of the orange and black clad team to the North well into August, September and baseball Gods willing October.
But that’s a big if.