Sunday, July 21, 2013

Hanley's clutch hitting has Dodgers on brink of first

Where would the Dodgers be without Hanley Ramirez?  For starters, they wouldn't be a 1/2 game out of first in the NL West.

One night after hitting a two-run homer as part of a 3-2 win, Ramirez's RBI double in the 10th proved to be the game winner, as the Dodgers went on to win, 3-1.  The Diamondbacks fell to the Giants, so the Dodgers have a golden opportunity to put the heat on even more with Clayton Kershaw taking the mound on Sunday.

Friday night saw the Dodgers win a in a bit of rare way for them - with two homers.  They found themselves down 1-0 going into the third when Mark Ellis and Yasiel Puig each struck out to start.  Adrian Gonzalez hit what seemed like an innocent single to center, though that brought up the red hot Ramirez.  Sure enough, Ramirez hit a liner out to right that cleared the wall in what seemed like two seconds for the 2-1 lead.

The Nationals tied it up in the sixth on an Ian Desmond RBI single, and the 2-2 score stayed that way until the ninth.  Andre Ethier, Mr. Play Every Outfield Position Any Given Night, golfed a pitch at his feet over the wall in right off of Rafael Soriano for the 3-2 lead.  A perfect ninth by Kenley Jansen later, and it was a perfect post-All-Star break start for the Dodgers.

The Dodgers had to be feeling great about taking the road series after Friday's big win, considering they had Zack Greinke and Kershaw going on the weekend.  Greinke ran into trouble in the first, as the bases were loaded with one out.  Jayson Werth and Desmond each popped up, and nothing came of it.

Greinke wasn't exactly at his sharpest, as he gave up seven hits and three walks in six innings.  But, thanks to an anemic 1-for-12 with RISP, the Nationals only scored one run.  Basically, they looked like the Dodgers circa-early 2013.  Only Roger Bernadina's RBI single in the sixth could get the Nats on the board.

The Dodgers couldn't do anything against Gio Gonzalez, who struck out 11 in only six innings.  Thankfully he was pulled when Bernadina pinch-hit for him in the sixth, and the Dodgers got on the board to start the seventh.  Skip Schumaker hit for Greinke with two outs and doubled, leading to a soft RBI single to left by Mark Ellis to tie the game.

Continuing the theme of the night, the Nationals had two runners apiece reach in the eighth and ninth and do nothing with it.  Chris Withrow struck out Bryce Harper looking on a nasty breaking ball to put the game into extra innings.

With Craig Stammen in to pitch the 10th, Gonzalez greeted him with a double.  That's when Ramirez came through again, smashing an RBI double off the wall in center for the 2-1 lead.  An out later, Ethier's sac-fly to left scored Ramirez, and it was 3-1.  Jansen had his second straight perfect save, his 11th overall.

Want another reason for why the Dodgers have turned the corner?  Puig is 0-for-9 with five strikeouts these last two games.  He's cleary overswinging at... well, pretty much any pitch thrown near the plate.  Yet, the Dodgers keep winning.  Remember when Puig was on fire when he was first called up, but the Dodgers still couldn't win?  It's so refreshing to see them getting contributions from other guys now.  Talk about night and day!

Ramirez is hitting .390 with 8 homers and 25 RBIs in only 41 games.  He still doesn't qualify for the batting title (don't ask me what that magic number of at-bats is, I have no idea), but the leader in the NL is Yadier Molina at .336.  Obviously, the more Ramirez plays, the closer he'll get to "officially" be a league leader, and he certainly has the ability to do so.

I mentioned before how Kershaw goes on Sunday, which always gives the Dodgers an edge against whatever team they are facing.  The Nationals, on the other hand, counter with their own All-Star, Jordan Zimmerman, who's 12-4 with a 2.58 ERA and 0.97 WHIP.  Nationals' fans were already booing their team off the field on Saturday, so I can imagine it will be worse if Kershaw outduels Zimmerman for the sweep.

Over in San Francisco, Madison Bumgarner and his 3.02 ERA goes up against Randall Delgado.  The stars are aligning for the Dodgers to be in first by the end of Sunday.

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