Commentary

Ramirez epitomizes Dodgers' talent

He continues to be a game-changer, leading L.A. to a rout of Atlanta in Game 3

Updated: October 7, 2013, 2:38 AM ET
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- Teams that advance deep into October tend to have a narrative that adheres around them. In some cases, it's the team that gets hot in September and just keeps going. Or, it's the battle-tested team that struggles series after tough series and learns to adapt and survive. Some teams eke by with just enough offense by pitching the other team into submission. Other teams batter down fences long after their starter has left the game.

Somebody asked catcher A.J. Ellis the other day to describe the Los Angeles Dodgers' identity.

"Honestly," Ellis said, "I feel like it's talent."

The Dodgers have thrown their talent at the Atlanta Braves in waves in this National League Division Series, and it's beginning to put them in an enviable position. The Dodgers took a two-games-to-one lead with Sunday night's 13-6 win over Atlanta. No sooner do the Braves emerge from the trials of facing Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher on the planet, then they stumble into Zack Greinke, who would be the best pitcher in just about any other city.

[+] EnlargeHanley Ramirez
Richard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsHanley Ramirez has six extra-base hits in his first three career playoff games, tying Dodgers legends Steve Garvey and Duke Snider for the most in a series in team history.

They pay their leadoff hitter $20 million and he barely merits a mention most nights, though Carl Crawford certainly did Sunday, his three-run home run igniting the Dodgers' offense. Their first baseman might be the most analytical hitter in the game. Their closer is the best pitcher no one has ever heard of. Aside from Kershaw, though, there is really only one towering talent in the Dodgers' clubhouse. The scary thing for the Braves is the guy who's sitting in their dugout pulling the strings has known all about it since the day he learned he would be playing L.A. Manager Fredi Gonzalez may not have seen eye to eye all the time when he was together with Hanley Ramirez in Miami, but Gonzalez is a veteran baseball man. He knows freakish ability on a baseball field when he sees it.

"I told Donny [Mattingly] when he was injured, this guy could tilt the field," Gonzalez said earlier this series.

Ramirez has certainly tilted a lot of Dodgers runs to the plate in these three games. He's batting .538 with four doubles, a triple, home run and six RBIs. Not bad for a guy who had never had a postseason at-bat until Thursday night. The six extra-base hits is the kind of thing only two Dodgers ever have accomplished in a postseason series and they're pretty good names if you're a Dodgers fan: Steve Garvey and Duke Snider.

And it has put the Dodgers on the brink of advancing. In fact, their position is practically ideal, with two more chances to clinch, facing high-mileage starter Freddy Garcia on Monday, and with Kershaw standing by ready to pitch Game 5 on normal rest. Mattingly knows hitting. He knows potential and he knows results. So, going into this season, his message to Ramirez was fairly consistent. He told him he's too good to bat .250. Ramirez, a former batting champion, hit .243 in 2011 in Miami and .257 between Miami and L.A. last season.

When the Dodgers have been able to keep him on the field, Ramirez has been their driving force all season with about half the media attention Yasiel Puig was getting. Now, with one of the great breakout performances in recent playoff history, his years of obscurity are over.

"I just kept telling him, 'I want the whole world to see you. I want the whole world to see how good you are,'" Mattingly said. Players are supposed to be nervous for their first playoff series. Ramirez may have shown a nerve or two in his first at-bat, a strikeout against Kris Medlen on Thursday night, but the rest of the series has been a continuation of his regular season. He has made major league baseball games look like Sunday afternoon softball games. His teammates marvel at his ability to play so well while looking so happy.

His 1.040 OPS trailed only Miguel Cabrera among players with at least 300 plate appearances this season. Now, he gets to do it in games people in other time zones might actually stay up to watch. He said he's enjoying October baseball so far. How could he not the way things are going?

"It's an unbelievable feeling, just the energy around you -- in the dugout, on the field, in the crowd," Ramirez said.

Just think if he were healthy. For weeks, he has been dealing with an irritated nerve in his back and the related hamstring tightness. In fact, it seems like virtually every key Dodgers hitter is on the verge of going down at any moment, perhaps the No. 1 worry for Mattingly at this point.

Puig had to retreat to the clubhouse midgame to get a little treatment on his knee. Crawford joked that he was on "so many medications" after flipping into the stands to make a catch Sunday and, perhaps, bothering his chronically sore lower back, he wouldn't know how he felt until Monday.

In other words, closing out the series Monday -- which would afford the Dodgers three days of rest heading into the NLCS -- would be entirely preferable to flying all the way across the country again for a Game 5 in Atlanta. The Dodgers players, who say they were a little surprised at the lack of energy in Dodger Stadium when the game began, would like to see maximum pressure applied to the Braves on Monday night.

"Make them squeeze the bats a little harder, grip the ball a little harder," reliever J.P. Howell said.

But, of course, these types of things are entirely unpredictable at this time of year. If the Dodgers don't close this thing out in one of the next two games, their identity will be the talented team that went practically nowhere.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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