Dodgers Reaction: Leadoff Hitters Key To September Success

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

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In Sunday’s loss to the Pirates, Carl Crawford led off the bottom of the first inning with a triple. It was the third consecutive game in which the Dodgers led off the bottom of the first inning with a base hit.

Justin Ruggiano, who has been stupendous against left-handed pitching since he was acquired by the Dodgers and added to the roster on September 1st, led off the previous two Dodger games versus the Bucs with base hits out of the leadoff spot as well. Ruggiano is 5-for-6 when leading off a game for the Dodgers with two singles, two doubles and a home run (all against left-handers).

Ruggiano, who was originally drafted by the Dodgers in 2004, has a total of ten leadoff hits (not all in the first inning) including four doubles, a home run and two walks in 33 plate appearances this month.

Don Mattingly acknowledged the outfielder’s leadoff hit parade when he spoke to Robert Morales of the Long Beach Press-Telegram last week:

He seems to get a hit to lead off every game that he plays, so he’s been a nice little spark.”

A spark at the top of the lineup is just what the Dodgers needed after going through most of the season without a true leadoff hitter. September has been chock full of lead off hits for the Dodgers giving them early leads which have in turn helped them hone in on their third consecutive N.L. West title.

The Dodgers have accumulated ten leadoff first inning hits in the 19 games they have played so far in the month of September. They have converted seven of those leadoff hits to runs.

Joc Pederson: one leadoff hit (single)

Scott Schebler: one leadoff hit (home run)

Carl Crawford: three leadoff hits (single, triple, home run)

Justin Ruggiano: five leadoff hits: (two singles, two doubles, home run)

Even with all the recent hits to lead off the first inning for the Dodgers, they still rank 14th in the National League with 294 leadoff hits (not all in the first inning). Only the Padres have less leadoff hits, and the Marlins have collected the most (338) thanks to former Dodger Dee Gordon, who leads the league with 81 leadoff hits. Interestingly, the Dodgers have the second-most leadoff doubles in the league (69), and they are fourth in the N.L. in leadoff home runs (43).

The Dodgers did not exactly start off September with a bang when leading off in the first inning. They failed to start with a base hit in the first inning in their first six games of the month versus San Francisco and San Diego. Ruggiano had not yet led off for the Dodgers, and it was Jimmy Rollins and Joc Pederson who were slated in the leadoff spot in those games.

Jimmy Rollins has been the Dodgers’ leadoff hitter a majority of the time this season, and he has 35 leadoff hits in 101 games when penciled in atop the lineup including a home run, a triple and 11 doubles while hitting .233/.281/.340 leading off. When Rollins struggled offensively in April, the Dodgers tinkered with the idea of batting Pederson leadoff for awhile to no avail. Pederson has hit .162/.296/.346 in 136 at-bats out of the leadoff spot this season. Pederson has been unable to utilize his speed, which was so prominent in his impressive year in Triple-A last year, and he was subsequently dropped to the eighth spot in the lineup.

The Dodgers have scored a majority of their runs this season thanks to the long ball, and they have lacked the important table-setters who can set the tone of the game with the leadoff hit, bunt single or even the exciting leadoff triple. While Ruggiano may not be the next Rickey Henderson (who hit an incredible 81 home runs to lead off games) or my favorite Dodger leadoff hitter Brett Butler, who was a master at bunting, Ruggiano has been a pleasant surprise this September adding some pop to the top of the lineup.

CONTINUE READING: Can Recent Success Determine Postseason Roster?

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