Both the Dodgers and Braves boast versatile weapons up the middle of the infield
LOS ANGELES -- No longer do shortstops dominate Major League Baseball. Gone are the days of superstars supercharging the position, giving way to an era in which many teams -- good teams -- make do with mediocrity up the middle.
Not the Braves and Dodgers, though. Not in this National League Division Series, tied at one-all heading into Game 3 Sunday, scheduled for 8 p.m. ET at Dodger Stadium and will air on TBS.
Not as long as Andrelton Simmons and Hanley Ramirez have anything to say about it.
"Their guy is young, tremendous -- some of the plays their guy makes is off the charts," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said, comparing Simmons to Ramirez. "But looking at our guy, I think he's off the charts from the standpoint of what he does offensively. I don't care what position he's playing, he's got to be one of the top guys out there."
This isn't exactly an October-exclusive thing. As calculated by FanGraphs, Ramirez and Simmons finished one-two this season among playoff-bound shortstops in Wins Above Replacement, a catch-all statistic designed to determine a player's overall worth. Ramirez, somewhat incredibly, ranked second among all shortstops despite not having enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title.
They may have derived their value in different ways, with Ramirez doing his best work at the plate and Simmons in the field. But each played well enough to enter into his respective team's regular-season MVP discussion, and each has already revved his engine in October.
In Game 2, for example, Simmons tied things with a second-inning RBI double and participated in three double plays on defense, including reliever Luis Avilan's critical turn in the seventh. Ramirez's answer? A two-run homer that gave the Braves new life one inning later.
In Game 1, Simmons was one of only three Braves hitters to record a hit against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. Ramirez, meanwhile, was the last of five Dodgers to drive in a run, also robbing Evan Gattis of a hit with a diving stop late in the game.
"I keep everything the same," Ramirez said in explanation of his early postseason success. "I don't really get too emotional."
So it goes in the NLDS, for a pair of shortstops one-upping each other in their respective styles. For the Braves, who constructed their starting rotation out of ground-ball pitchers, Simmons has established himself as a critical cog. The advanced metric Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) rates his regular-season performance the best of any player in the statistic's 11-year history. Though Simmons was a below-average offensive performer, he made up for it on defense. And then some. And then some more.
For the Dodgers, Ramirez's value is even more obvious. Los Angeles was 51-26 this season when Ramirez started, 41-44 when he did not. When thumb, hamstring, shoulder and back injuries forced Ramirez to the sideline for more than half the summer, it only underscored his value to a team lost without him.
"Hanley's a different animal, really, from the standpoint of most of the time, you don't look at a shortstop as the offensive player that he is," Mattingly said. "He's more of a total middle-of-the-order guy with power. You always talk about being solid up the middle. I think the better clubs, you talk about being solid through the middle defensively. Hanley just brings a different dimension."
Fredi Gonzalez, who managed Ramirez for four seasons in Miami, recalled him as a shortstop who, "on any given day, might have been the best player on the field."
"I think he's still that same guy," the Braves manager continued. "He's scary when he comes to the plate because he can split a gap or he can run you out of the ballpark. He can steal you a base. He's a very talented player."
So is Simmons, who manifests his talent in different ways. Simmons may not possess the star power of Ramirez -- nor of Troy Tulowitzki, Ian Desmond or any of the league's other top shortstops. But like Ramirez, he has transformed himself into a postseason cog at one of the diamond's most valuable positions.
"I haven't really thought about it," Simmons said of his early success. "I'm just going out there doing my best. Every once in a while I hear some positive comments about positive things. It's nice. But I still feel like it's just my job I'm doing."