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Saturday, August 10, 2013
Adrian Gonzalez is doing MVP-type stuff

By Mark Saxon

LOS ANGELES -- Yasiel Puig has been the fuse. Hanley Ramirez has been the dynamite.

But this entire Los Angeles Dodgers explosion never would have happened -- or might have simply been too late -- if not for the steady demolition work Adrian Gonzalez has been doing all season, to virtually no fanfare.

Adrian Gonzalez
Adrian Gonzalez leads the Dodgers in hits, home runs and RBIs, but perhaps more important, he leads in games played, too.
If you're a Puig fan (and what Dodgers supporter isn't these days?), at least understand where manager Don Mattingly is coming from when he says Gonzalez -- not Puig, Ramirez or Clayton Kershaw -- has been the Dodgers' MVP this season.

People in the right-field bleachers were chanting, "Puig! Puig! Puig!" after he made a nice running catch at the wall during Saturday's 5-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays, the Dodgers' 36th win in the past 44 games. Maybe somebody should start a Gonzalez chant one of these days. What, too many syllables?

"I try to talk about it enough to let people know," Mattingly said. "He and Mark Ellis are kind of bread and butter, right? They're there for the most part all the time, they do their thing and you don't really notice them because they're not real flashy, but it's kind of been all year long.

"He's that guy you don't really have to worry about."

Gonzalez leads the Dodgers in hits, home runs and RBIs (by a mile). Maybe more crucial than all of those: He leads them in games played. In a season in which other superstar talents have exited and entered the Dodgers' lineup via revolving doors, he stays put. Gonzalez has missed just four of the Dodgers' 116 games.

At times, it seems the culture of baseball encourages stoicism. Gonzalez is one of those guys. He has never been on the disabled list.

"My whole career, I've played through injuries, through nicks and knacks," he said. "That's what I try to do is be out there every day and help the team win."

On Saturday, Gonzalez launched a low-flying missile over the right-field wall for his 16th home run. Nick Punto was on base, so it gave him his 72nd RBI. The next-closest Dodger in that category, Andre Ethier, has 41.

Gonzalez's swing has evolved since he underwent right shoulder surgery two years ago. He can't drive balls out of the park to the opposite field as he once did. The strength isn't there, the front-side stability. But he manages to do what the Dodgers pay him to do year after year: get hits with runners on base. Assuming he gets to 100 RBIs -- and it will be close -- he will have reached that mark in seven of the past eight years. The one time he missed, he had 99.

He's kind of the Hyun-Jin Ryu of the Dodgers' offense. Both players have been so solid -- and, at times, overshadowed by flashier talents -- that hardly anybody notices them.

"I'm not here to even worry about who's getting credit or who's not," Gonzalez said. "I'm just here to help the team win. It's the last thing on my mind."

That first-inning blast Saturday sent the Dodgers on their merry way. It's the kind of thing Gonzalez has been doing all season, quietly as usual. On Friday, he had the key hit -- a double down the right-field line -- that capped the rally from a 6-0 hole, and he scored the winning run when Fernando Rodney chucked the ball into center field.

It really doesn't take that much drama to win these days. The Dodgers have 14 shutouts, tied for the league lead with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Dodgers starting pitchers are 10-1 with a 1.73 ERA in their past 15 starts. Dodgers starters now lead the majors in ERA, which is not particularly surprising when you look at the names.

What is a tad more surprising is that the Dodgers rank second in the National League in batting average and on-base percentage.

Perhaps another way of saying that is they've become a complete team, a dangerous team. And, if Gonzalez is the key cog on a team like that, shouldn't he get a mention or two in the league MVP race?