PHILADELPHIA — Here's something the rest of baseball will find frightening: Although the Dodgers have put together the best 50-game streak by a major league team since 1942, they haven't been at full strength for most of that run.
Matt Kemp has made three trips to the disabled list, missing 39 games, while Carl Crawford was out for a dozen games. But Hanley Ramirez, when he's been healthy enough to play, has picked up much of the offensive slack, hitting .358 with 10 home runs and 31 runs batted in since June 22.
"Hanley's been outstanding," infielder Nick Punto said of Ramirez, who returned to the lineup Wednesday after missing nine starts with a shoulder problem. "He's one of those dominating bats in the middle of your lineup that if you take out of the lineup, it changes it a lot."
When Ramirez plays, the Dodgers can bat Yasiel Puig second, ahead of Adrian Gonzalez, and use the right-handed-hitting Ramirez in the cleanup spot between Gonzalez and Andre Ethier, who are both left-handed hitters. That makes it difficult for opponents to get favorable matchups for their bullpen late in games.
"We have three hitters in a row that can do a lot of damage, " Punto said.
Ramirez had a single off the wall in three tries Saturday, but his .363 batting average trails only Puig's .364 among major leaguers with at least 200 at-bats. And his .647 slugging percentage is tops in the NL. As a result the Dodgers are 22 games over .500 in games he starts.
But Dodger Manager Don Mattingly says Ramirez needs to share credit for the team's success.
"He's a big part of it," Mattingly said. "But all those games he's started, we've still had that same pitching. I don't mind giving guys all kinds of credit. But I can't really give just one guy credit. We're getting contributions from all over the place."
While the Dodgers continue to win, Puig, their electric rookie, continues to learn — with much of that education coming the hard way.
Puig had a single and a double in his first two at-bats Saturday but cost the Dodgers a scoring opportunity in the third inning when he tried to go from second to third on Gonzalez's shallow fly to center. He was thrown out easily, leaving Ramirez standing at the plate.
Then, in the bottom of the inning, he charged across the outfield and appeared ready to run over Ethier before pulling up at the last second.
After making the catch, Ethier appeared to admonish Puig as they jogged off the field.
Mattingly said he has discussed Puig's all-out play with him numerous times, asking him to weigh both the risk and rewards of his aggressive style.
"Obviously I'm not getting the message across," Mattingly said. "But we're going to keep trying and hope he understands. The one thing about Yasiel, it's always go forward. And that's what we love.
"We just want to continue to teach him. Because you feel like at some point, one of those can hurt you. You don't want one of those to cost you a game."
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