Dodgers have regained their power this season

Home runs again save Dodgers as Andre Ethier, Alex Guerrero and Jimmy Rollins go long against Braves

Andre Ethier paused for a moment. It has been a long time since he can remember baseballs flying out of Chavez Ravine with the frequency they have this season.

In fact, Ethier said, he hasn't seen anything like it since — he thought — since… Manny Ramirez's time with the team.

Well, some one replied, Ramirez had some help.

Now Ethier didn't pause.

"Oh yeah," he said with a grin. "I was hitting in front of him."

After a brief lull, the home runs returned in force to Dodger Stadium in the team's 6-3 win over the Atlanta Braves. And this time, it really was due to Ethier, who slugged a home run in the eighth inning to break a 2-2 tie.

The Dodgers had hit just three home runs in their previous eight games, but they stroked as many in the eighth inning Monday. After Ethier's home run, Alex Guerrero and Jimmy Rollins followed with their own blasts.

More than a quarter of the way through the season, the Dodgers have been surprisingly reliant on the long ball. They are second in the league with 60 home runs — 16% of their hits — and in close games, they have counted on one to arrive at the right moment.

During their recent eight-game offensive swoon, it had sometimes stood them up like a bad date.

But more often, it has been their savior. The Dodgers have scored more than three runs only once in nine games, yet they have won four.

All but one was thanks to the long ball. Joc Pederson's home run in Saturday's win over the San Diego Padres proved decisive. A day earlier, his homer was the game-winner. And Ethier's homer was the difference Monday.

The surge escapes easy explanation, especially considering the Dodgers' three leading home-run hitters from last season have either been traded (Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez) or are hurt (Yasiel Puig).

"I don't know," Ethier said. "It's one of those funny things, one of those funny stats."

Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly has, at times, hypothesized that the especially dry weather means less drag on the balls. Maybe, he pondered, global warming is behind it?

"I don't know," Mattingly said. "But it was good to get a few tonight."

The Dodgers have needed the power, because their run-manufacturing efforts have broken down. The team is third-to-last in steals, and not only for lack of trying — it's also second-to-last in success rate. And twice Monday, Rollins attempted to bunt a runner to third. Both times, the runner was thrown out.

Before the game, the hitters held their regular meeting at the start of a series. They needed to work through a few issues. The offense had stranded 52 runners in eight games. Their hard-hit rate has plummeted almost 2% from two weeks ago. They remain second in the league in the category, but the drop is alarming — the difference between the best and worst team in the major leagues is just 5%.

So at the meeting, the hitters were reminded to stay within themselves.

"We can't rely on one-swing homers to put up all the runs," Ethier said. "We have to have good innings."

Perhaps, then, by trying not to hit home runs, they hit more home runs. Or maybe the home runs just bailed them out again.

Recently, Mattingly has fielded questions on whether the team is relying too heavily on the long ball. It is counterintuitive. Home runs, of course, are good for a team. No hitter would trade one for, say, a triple. Yet no World Series champion since the 2009 New York Yankees have cracked the top five in home runs.

"Over the course of the season, we'll see if we're going to be a team that's going to lead the league in homers or if we're going to be a team that can score in different ways," Mattingly said. "I think we're pretty happy and confident with the approach that we're hitting with."

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