If the Cubs hope to turn around the season and make another postseason run, Ramirez's big shoulders will have to help carry them. After a slow start exacerbated by nagging back pains, Ramirez finally appears to be heating up with summer on the doorstep.
Ramirez homered for the third straight game and Greg Maddux earned his first victory since May 10 in the Cubs' 5-3 victory over Los Angeles before 44,255 Monday at Dodger Stadium.
"Right now it's time for somebody else to step up," Ramirez said. "And I've been doing that."
Ryan Dempster served up a ninth-inning home run to Olmedo Saenz but closed it out for his fifth consecutive save, giving the Cubs four wins in a row for the first time this season. They moved over the .500 mark at 25-24 for the first time since April 30, when they were 12-11.
The Cubs also tied the Dodgers in the series at 930-930 since 1900.
The difference in the Cubs over the last four games is quite obvious. When Ramirez starts hitting, the rest of the team tends to follow. Over the last four games, Ramirez is 9-for-16 with three homers and eight RBIs, complementing an offense that Derrek Lee has carried the first two months.
"It makes a difference, big-time," Maddux said. "It's been 'D-Lee,' and now we've got 'Rammy,' and [Jeromy Burnitz] got a big hit [Sunday]. When the guys are scoring runs, it makes it a lot easier for everything. They've been swinging good for the last month or two, and now they're starting to get stuff to fall in."
Maddux (3-3) yielded one earned run on five hits with three strikeouts over six innings, his third consecutive start without issuing a walk. With 308 career victories, Maddux is now one away from tying Mickey Welch for 19th place on the all-time list.
Maddux has given up three or fewer earned runs in seven of his 11 starts, but the Cubs have scored three or more runs when he was on the mound only three times, including Monday.
Jerry Hairston's leadoff home run off Wilson Alvarez in the first got the Cubs off on the right foot, and Jason Dubois' RBI groundout later in the inning made it 2-0.
Michael Barrett's two-run blast off Alvarez increased the lead to 4-0 in the fourth, before the Dodgers scored a pair in the bottom of the inning on Saenz's two-run double that glanced off the mitt of a leaping Corey Patterson at the center-field wall.
Ramirez's solo shot in the fifth made it 5-1 and put the Cubs in control.
"I don't think I'm close to where I was last year," Ramirez said. "I don't think I even went into a slump last year. It was probably my best year all around."
Maddux was replaced by Todd Wellemeyer to start the seventh. Though Wellemeyer got into trouble with back-to-back walks to start the eighth, he induced Jayson Werth to ground into a double play, and Will Ohman retired J.D. Drew on a groundout to first to escape the inning.
Despite injuries to key players like Prior, Wood, Todd Walker, Joe Borowski and Nomar Garciaparra, manager Dusty Baker never has felt as though there's been too much adversity for his team to overcome.
"Not yet," he said. "That's life. You've got to try and find a way. Does it get heavy? Yeah. Do you get frustrated? Yeah. But you have no choice. You've got to do it."