Granderson, Gonzalez add something old and new to Dodgers

ByJerry Crasnick ESPN logo
Saturday, August 26, 2017

Curtis Granderson is 36 years old and savvy enough to understand where the fun and games of baseball end and the business side begins. He has played for both New York franchises, been a prominent voice in the players' association, signed a $60 million deal with the Mets as a free agent, and changed uniforms after a trade before, so nothing that transpires at this point in his career will faze him much.

Still, the Los Angeles Dodgers found a way to rock his world a week ago. After a loss to the Miami Marlins at Citi Field, the Mets finalized a trade to send Granderson to the Dodgers for a player to be named. In a brief, chaotic span, Granderson went from playing out the string in New York to playing outfield for a team that oddsmakers have designated as the clear World Series favorite.

"Anytime you get traded, the first thought is, 'Why did I get traded?'" Granderson said. "But the second thought is, 'That means somebody really wants you.' The fact that this team was at the top of the list of (teams) who wanted me was exciting. They feel I can come in and help them out, and that's what I'm trying to do."

The Dodgers could have easily justified abstaining from major transactions as the season wound toward a conclusion. With a 5-2 victory in Pittsburgh on Thursday, they became the 12th team in MLB history to reach 90 victories by their 126th game. They lead the National League West by 21 games over second-place Arizona, have a gargantuan run differential of plus-223, and sported the best record by an NL team through 126 games (90-36) since Stan Musial and the St. Louis Cardinals went on a 92-34 blitz to begin the 1944 season.

Amid the monotony of winning, president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and his group have been active in fine-tuning the machine for the postseason. The Dodgers added Yu Darvish to the rotation and lefty relievers Tony Watson and Tony Cingrani to the bullpen by the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, and have strengthened their batting order with a double dose of initiative and patience in August.

Just as Granderson was joining the Dodgers, the team was activating Adrian Gonzalez from the 60-day disabled list and optioning Joc Pederson to Triple-A Oklahoma City for a refresher course. Gonzalez had been out since June 12 with a herniated disc in his back.

"Anytime you can get guys like that in your lineup, it's a huge plus," said shortstop Corey Seager. "I think we did a really good job of not settling with the team we had. You can always improve. You can always do better. A big hats off to our front office for going out and doing it and making the push."

The new additions made a big impression as the Dodgers won three of four games in Pittsburgh this week (with the only loss coming on Rich Hill's near no-hitter). Granderson hit a grand slam in the series opener, added a solo shot in the finale and walked seven times in four games. Gonzalez became the first player of Mexican descent to reach 2,000 hits with a double off Pirates reliever Johnny Barbato on Wednesday, and then tacked on a solo homer Thursday.

Manager Dave Roberts has already shown some creativity with his new toys. In Wednesday's game, Granderson and Gonzalez hit in the Nos. 3-4 spots in the order. The following day, they batted second and fifth. At-bats could be tougher to come by when Cody Bellinger returns from an ankle injury in September. But Roberts loves the dimension that Granderson and Gonzalez bring as veterans with postseason experience.

"As the numbers show, we can slug with anyone,'' Roberts said. "We can hit the ball out of the ballpark. But when you're facing [starters who are] 1s and 2s, those homers are hard to come by. To be able to string together some hits or take a walk, that's how you beat those guys, in my opinion. When you add Curtis and Adrian and a healthy Cody Bellinger and the other guys in our lineup who have the same mentality -- but can also slug when there's a mistake -- we're relentless. It's a lineup that has to be very taxing on a pitching staff."

Opponents have been rendered helpless in their attempts to find soft spots in the Los Angeles lineup. The Dodgers are fourth in the National League with 183 homers and second to Washington among NL clubs with a .451 slugging percentage. They also lead the majors with 524 walks, and now they've added two players with the patience and strike zone judgment to keep grinding against the game's elite pitchers in the postseason.

Granderson and Gonzalez both understand the challenges that await them in October, when opponents bore in on hitters' weaknesses with meticulously detailed scouting reports, and when off days and cold weather can be disruptive to routines. Granderson has a .239/.339/.457 slash line with nine home runs in 222 postseason plate appearances, while Gonzalez checks in at .266/.329/.453 and seven homers in 140 October plate appearances.

Granderson has a 22.7 percent strikeout rate in his career and a nondescript .699 OPS vs. lefties, but he's averaged 4.20 pitches per plate appearance in the big leagues and typically ranks among the game's most selective hitters. Gonzalez has just two home runs in 57 games this season, but he has swung the bat with more authority and been less hesitant to cut it loose since his return from the disabled list.

"As he starts to see the finish line and understands that he's gearing up for a postseason, you see the focus," Roberts said. "That's why Adrian has performed in big games and in the postseason throughout his career. He has that ability to stay in the strike zone and get that big hit or walk when you need it and pass the baton. From the moment he came back, he's been determined to show he warrants an opportunity each day."

As a tandem, Granderson and Gonzalez have a combined eight All-Star appearances, 615 homers and 3,648 hits on their resumes. But they've embraced the Dodgers' team-first mantra and said all the right things about playing time and their respective roles. Roberts said this week that Seager and Bellinger will get their at-bats late in games no matter how daunting the left-handed bullpen matchups, but the manager won't hesitate to pinch-hit for Granderson, Gonzalez or Chase Utley if a better option is on the bench.

That's fine with Gonzalez, who understands that Seager, Bellinger and third baseman Justin Turner have ascended to the top of the Dodgers' offensive hierarchy and everyone needs to accept a subordinate role.

"Cody, Corey and JT are our top three guys, and they're the guys we're going to depend on in October," Gonzalez said. "Other than that, every single other guy is a top-of-the-line complementary guy."

So Gonzalez is fine with the "complementary" label after spending most of his 14 MLB seasons as the centerpiece to lineups?

"It's OK," he said. "I can be that. Why wouldn't I?"

While Gonzalez rediscovers his swing mechanics and kicks off the rust, Granderson navigates the garden-variety logistics and life disruptions that midseason trades can bring. Last weekend he joined the Dodgers in Detroit, where he spent his first five big league seasons, before accompanying the team to Pittsburgh. He got his first look at the Dodger Stadium home clubhouse Friday night against the Milwaukee Brewers.

"It's tough," Granderson said. "You come into a situation where a team has played a lot of games. It's not just a month or spring training or a previous season. They're a lot of games into this season, and you've been accustomed to one way and they're been accustomed to another way. Now I'm coming in and watching and observing while they're also watching and observing me, but we still have to go out there and play. So it's a mixture of all those things wrapped up into one."

Between the lineup adjustments and frequent roster moves, the Dodgers haven't had any trouble acclimating between the lines. Barely a week into the new arrangement, all parties involved can't help but like what they see.