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Dodgers' Crawford carrying hot bat into NLDS

LOS ANGELES -- Carl Crawford promised he wasn't going to complain. He wasn't going to focus on the "dumb stuff." Maybe Crawford would've done that 10 years earlier, but in 2014, he'd be a cheerleader for as long as he needed to be.

That was July 10, when Crawford walked into the Dodgers' clubhouse as an active player for the first time since he sprained his left ankle in May. And his name wasn't on the lineup card.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly had sat down with the 32-year-old outfielder and told him he wouldn't be starting, that the Dodgers were winning with an outfield combination of Matt Kemp in left, Andre Ethier in center and Yasiel Puig right, and the skipper wasn't about to change that configuration.

Since then, Crawford has quietly played with an agenda. He's forced Mattingly's hand and earned a spot back in the lineup, a spot back in left field. Crawford has been one of the team's hottest hitters in the second half, and he's looking to carry that success into the National League Division Series against the Cardinals (Game 1, Friday, 3:30 p.m. PT on FOX Sports 1).

Crawford went on the disabled list a veteran, but in some ways, he returned a rookie -- thirsty for opportunity and eager to seize it.

"It feels like I'm starting over," Crawford said Thursday, on the eve of Game 1. "I'm proving myself all over again. My role is diminished against lefties, so I'm already not playing against those guys. It's like I'm trying to prove everything all over again.

"But I guess, in a way, that's probably what's making me play better."

Upon his return, it took time for Crawford to get a feel for his swing. His season had essentially stopped and restarted before he could find any sort of rhythm. But once Crawford did find it, there was no stopping him.

In his final 40 games of the season, Crawford batted .406/.447/.578, slugging four home runs, driving in 23 runs and stealing nine bases. He raised his batting average in that span from .237 to an even .300. Crawford even hit lefties well this season -- though limited to just 56 at-bats -- batting .321/.381/.500 against them.

"Carl, it seems like he's on base every stinking time," said Scott Van Slyke, Crawford's right-handed-hitting platoon partner in left field. "And when he got out, it was a line drive. So, he's been great."

That's nothing new. Crawford has a penchant for getting hot down the stretch run. In his career, he has posted his highest batting average (.308) and on-base percentage (.347) in September and October. And it was around this time a year ago when Crawford was sizzling hot at the plate. He went 6-for-17 (.353) in last season's NLDS -- and three of those hits were home runs.

"I've had a little postseason experience," said Crawford, a .272 hitter in 31 career postseason games. "You just try to get even more locked in. You try to focus even a little harder. Wherever that comes from, I don't really know. It's just something I try to do really well when that time comes.

"You have to be able to block all the craziness out and focus on what you're trying to do. It's really tough, especially on the road. You just have to find a way to do it."

With the Cardinals starting all right-handers in the NLDS, Crawford should have plenty of at-bats. 

And no matter how much experience one has, it's hard not to look at the postseason through rookie eyes.

"There's always nerves when you get out there, just because the moment is so big," Crawford said. "You got all the fans screaming. You know what's at stake.

"I think nerves is good. If you're not nervous, then you're probably not worried about it as much as you should."

Michael Lananna is an associate reporter for
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