Dodgers' bats get it done without Kemp, Ethier
Ramirez leading the way to brink of NLCS for banged-up LA lineup
LOS ANGELES -- Three at-bats for Michael Young, back on Aug. 12. That was the full extent of the Dodgers' collective experience against Julio Teheran.
And so, in the two days leading up to Game 3, they flipped through the contacts on their smartphones and did a little long-distance dialing to their forgotten friends spending October on beaches or golf courses or cushiony couches.
The word relayed back to the Dodgers dugout was consistent and conclusive: Teheran has a live arm, but he makes mistakes in the strike zone. Wait for them.
"You can't miss his mistakes," Adrian Gonzalez would say after the Dodgers had trashed Teheran and taken Game 3.
They didn't miss much in this superb Sunday showing.
The Dodgers took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series with the Braves by bashing their way to the franchise's most runs in a postseason performance since the 1958 leap to Los Angeles. Their 13-6 victory at Dodger Stadium was another reminder of how lethal this lineup can be, even with Matt Kemp on crutches and in a walking boot and Andre Ethier recovering from shin splints and limited to pinch-hitting duty.
Funny how good a lineup can look when it has Hanley Ramirez batting .538 with a 1.231 slugging percentage, Gonzalez hitting .357 and Yasiel Puig hitting .462. That's the smallest of samples, certainly, but October is all about making the most of your samples, and the Dodgers are doing it.
Of course, the Dodgers don't always look like this, and therein lies the problem. They've rarely been dealing from a full deck this season (the supposed conundrum of having four worthy outfielders -- Kemp, Ethier, Puig and Carl Crawford -- on an NL club is negated by the fact that only twice all year has Don Mattingly had all four available to him, and Kemp got hurt in both of those games), and it's no coincidence that their wild 42-8 run came in correlation not just with Puig's arrival but with a less-invasive injury report.
The Dodgers aren't exactly a beacon of health right now. Ramirez has a banged-up back and, when asked what other body parts are ailing him right now, coyly answered, "That's a secret."
It's no secret, though, that Hanley at his height can carry a lineup.
Certainly, the Clayton Kershaw /Zack Greinke pairing atop the rotation is one reason to love the Dodgers' chances of turning 2013 into a season of dreams. But it's a night like this that reminds you of the inning-to-inning, night-after-night value of veteran hitters with astute approaches and a relentless pursuit of runs. You think Fredi Gonzalez hasn't thought to himself a time or two this series how much he would have loved to have this version of Hanley -- focused, motivated, happy and hammering the ball -- in his lineup regularly back in their shared Florida days?
"He's scary when he comes to the plate," Gonzalez said the other day, "because he can split a gap or he can run you out of the ballpark. He can steal you a base. He's a very talented player."
And the Dodgers, even at something less than full strength, have a very talented and multi-faceted lineup.
"It's a very veteran ballclub," hitting coach Mark McGwire said. "So we know how to hit."
That doesn't always show. In Game 2, the Dodgers got the leadoff man aboard four times and wasted each of those opportunities. It came back to bite them big time in a 4-3 loss.
"We can get a little pull-happy," McGwire said. "It gets us in trouble. Me and [assistant hitting coach] John Valentin just try to beat it in their heads every day that we've got to use the middle of the field. When we do that, good things happen."
They happened in Game 3, just not immediately. The Braves took a 2-0 lead against Hyun-Jin Ryu, who was neither sharp nor stable in his first postseason performance. And once again, the Dodgers left the leadoff man Crawford stranded after he singled in the first.
But they cracked Teheran in the second, when singles from Puig and Juan Uribe and a walk for A.J. Ellis loaded the bases, setting up a sac fly from Ryu (an underrated hitter in his own right) and the big blow -- Crawford's three-run homer into the right-field seats. The Dodgers led, 4-2.
Ryu's trouble on the mound and in the field allowed the Braves back in the ballgame as they tied it in the third. But the bottom of the inning, sparked by Ramirez's leadoff double, would be the undoing of Teheran and the Braves. Adrian Gonzalez ripped an RBI single to left to regain the lead. Later, with two out, Skip Schumaker came through with an RBI single of his own. Fredi Gonzalez was finally forced to go to his bullpen, much earlier than anticipated. It's a deep 'pen, but not this deep. The Dodgers tacked on four more in the fourth off Alex Wood on Hanley's RBI triple, Puig's run-scoring single and Uribe's two-run shot to the seats. Any runs from there were merely L.A. extravagance.
Looking back, the two extra-base hits off Teheran -- the Crawford homer that sealed the second and the Ramirez double that ignited the third -- both came in two-strike counts. Those are the moments when the experience and innate ability of this lineup shines through. And led by Ramirez, for whom greatness has always been within reach ("I think he just had a point to prove to a lot of people," McGwire said), they have faced a pitching staff that had the best ERA in the game this season and nonetheless bashed their way to within a game of the NL Championship Series.
The Dodgers haven't always made it look this easy. But when they do their homework and stick to their gameplan, they don't have to be at full strength to be at full blast.