LOS ANGELES – Although Yasiel Puig's hot start got more attention, another Dodger's nearly identical performance has helped carry Los Angeles out of the basement and into first place in the NL West.
Hanley Ramirez, whose star faded considerably over the past two seasons, has played at an MVP-level since his return from the disabled list on June 4, one day after Puig's call-up from the minors. The two have combined to lead the Dodgers to a 23-6 stretch since June 22. Entering June 3, the Dodgers were in last place at 23-32; they are 30-16 since and now sit atop their division.
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"We're trying to bring some energy out there and try to keep everybody together," Ramirez said. "We're all on the same page. We know what we want. We just want that ring at the end of the season."
Puig and Ramirez have been mirror images on offense since early June:
"I'm happy he's back and he's giving it his all and that we're in first place," Puig said of Ramirez through a translator. "I feel like we are playing our best ball and are basically ready for the playoffs."
Ramirez, who missed time with a hamstring injury earlier in the year, appears to be healthy after shoulder surgery in December 2011. Ramirez struggled the past two seasons, batting only .252 with 34 home runs and 138 RBIs in that period.
"Yeah, you know, since I got here they've put a lot of work on it," Ramirez said, referring to the rehab of his shoulder. "I think that's one of the keys right now."
Although Puig has been sensational, the 22-year-old Bo Jackson look-a-like has shown his rawness. From base running to the outfield, Puig's energy has led to some head-shaking mistakes. As he goes through the league a second time, Puig has shown signs of returning to earth. In July he is batting .303 with only two home runs and six RBIs. The veteran Ramirez needs to be the constant from the cleanup spot for the Dodgers to continue their good play as Puig inevitably cools off.
Thursday night's loss to the Cincinnati Reds marked the one-year anniversary of Ramirez's trade from the Marlins. Ramirez was often derided in Miami for his immaturity, something that Dodgers manager Don Mattingly attributed to being the face of the franchise at such a young age. A clubhouse with other stars like him has helped the trade work out for the Dodgers.
"You don't find too many Hanleys," Mattingly said. "Guys that can run, hit, hit for power."
On Ramirez's nameplate in the locker room is a sign that reads "Attitude is important, so pick a good one."
"You've got to have attitude," Ramirez said. "Attitude to win. Attitude that you bring to the ballpark every day. That makes a difference every day. You pick a good one every day and you go out there, have fun and play hard."
The Dodgers are baseball's most expensive team with a payroll exceeding $200 million. In a lineup of All-Star caliber players, Ramirez is only the sixth-highest paid player, but as summer turns to fall he will be their most important. His bat will be pivotal as the Dodgers make a run for their first NL pennant since 1988. His attitude, too.
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