On June 19th, the Dodgers were 29-39 and 7.5 games back of Arizona for the National League West lead. Since then, the Dodgers have nine wins, tied for most in baseball. The 9-4 run has placed Los Angeles at 38-43 and just 3.5 games behind the Diamondbacks.
The man in the spotlight has been Yasiel Puig, and for good reason. Any time a player enters the league and makes it his own like Puig has — .436/.467/.713, seven home runs and four stolen bases over his first 26 games, all at age 22 — it’s an event. It’s like watching history. But Puig can’t win all by himself. He tried. He was just as good over his first 13 games (.479/.500/.771 and four of the seven home runs), but his Dodgers went 6-7.
Enter Hanley Ramirez. The former All-Star — former superstar, really, before things went sour in Miami — has nearly been at Puig’s level this year. In his 26 games, Ramirez is hitting .387/.427/.707 with six home runs and four stolen bases. And since he returned in earnest from a nagging hamstring injury on June 19th — remember that date? — he’s hitting an absurd .477/.521/.886, with five of those six home runs and 15 of his 17 RBI.
It was obvious Puig needed help from the start. In the first 13 games of his young career, Puig scored just three times when he didn’t hit himself in. This was all despite batting leadoff seven times and reaching base 20 times (besides the four homers) — the Dodgers managed to bring him around just 15 percent of the time when he was on base.
Since Ramirez’s return, Puig has scored on nine non-homer occasions in his last 13 games. He has reached base 22 times and scored nine times, a 41 percent rate and nearly a threefold increase. For Hanley? Of his 17 RBI on the season, six have been himself, and the other six have been Puig coming around to score.
Of course, there’s more to it. Puig debuted in a lineup featuring Ramon Hernandez at catcher, Scott Van Slyke in left field, Andre Ethier in center field and Luis Cruz at shortstop. The Dodgers victory Sunday saw Matt Kemp back in center field and Ethier in left, where his glove belongs. A.J. Ellis is back at catcher. These are huge improvements for the Dodgers, both offensively and defensively.
And, of course, Hanley Ramirez is back at shortstop. Ramirez put up MVP numbers for three straight years from 2007 through 2009 and was the best shortstop bat for miles this side of Troy Tulowitzki. He’s just 29 years old, and the tools are all still there.
Adding Yasiel Puig to this struggling Dodgers team was a key boost, a shot of hope and adrenaline for the team and its fans. Still, it was clear early on he wasn’t going to be enough to push them in to the race. There was too much dead weight; they were still short at least one more impact piece. Ramirez has shown he can be that piece, and he’ll have to continue to do so if the Dodgers are going to ride this wave into October.