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Can the L.A. Dodgers Cruz into the Second NL Wild Card Position?

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 14: Luis Cruz #47 of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrates as he rounds first base after hitting a three run home run in the sixth inning against the St Louis Cardinals on September 14, 2012 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Richard LeivenbergContributor IIISeptember 16, 2012

Is it possible that with all of their new big names pumped up with all of that purported power and superstar status, that the guy the other teams should be pitching around is Los Angeles Dodgers newbie Luis Cruz?

In just two games, while batting in the seventh spot behind the big boys, Cruz has single-handedly kept the Dodgers in the race against time and a bunch of stubborn NL teams.

First, on Friday, he hit a three-run homer that led to a Dodger victory over St. Louis, who currently holds the top spot in the NL Wild Card's race.

Then, last night, in an even more unlikely scenario, with two outs in the ninth and the team down by one, he knocked in the tying run.  Just prior to his clutch hit, Andre Ethier singled for the first hit by a Dodger in 21 tries and then Dee Gordon stole second. 

Cruz, who is batting .297 and has 35 RBI, continued the rally with a decisive smack over the head of a the streaking center fielder, but even more importantly, he fist-pumped and screamed with the kind of enthusiasm that can get an entire team going.

This from a guy who was stuck in the minors for 11 years.  Talk about persistence.

Perhaps, unlike the big stars on the team, he is hungrier to play and still possesses the wonder and excitement that drives an athlete to win.  There is truly something awe-inspiring about his recent performance, and the Dodgers must hope that his passion leads the team to more wins.

The Dodgers are a team that should be winning games easily.  At least that is what it would seem like now that they have assembled a bunch of All-Stars by the names of Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Shane Victorino to go with the stalwarts they already possessed in Ethier and Matt Kemp.

We know by now that they haven't quite lived up to their vaunted billing.  Kemp is 2-for-20 and the other three guys have performed in a hit-and-miss fashion since coming aboard.  A-Gon, for gosh sakes, has only one homer since his first game.  Victorino, batting second for now, has 26 strikeouts while batting just .242.

Ramirez, who may be as buff as any shortstop in the league, has an average of .261, but he too has struck out a bunch—46 times as a Dodger.

Meanwhile, third baseman Cruz is batting .359 since August 13 and has been the only bright spot offensively.

The question is, why is he still batting seventh?  If anything, he should be batting second or third while Kemp is pushed back in the lineup.

The Dodgers do not have the time to wait until Kemp figures it out.  Sorry, Matt, but the Dodgers are in a dog fight and cannot and should not wait for you to wake up your bat.

Manager Don Mattingly should know that and place Cruz up higher.  Cruz is definitely a contact hitter. He has only struck out 26 times in 291 at-bats.  That would make him an ideal No. 2 hitter.

One gets the feeling that Mattingly feels an allegiance to the big names like Victorino and Kemp and Co.

The funny thing is, the Dodgers looked and played better at the end of May when Kemp went on the DL and they were piecing together a team of wannabes and has-beens like Elian Herrera, Dee Gordon, Bobby Abreu, A.J. Ellis and Adam Kennedy.

At one point in late May, they won 12 of 20 and then continued their strong run into June, winning 10 of their first 15.

Remember, this was not only without an injured Kemp, but without the big stars acquired in August.

Now, they are fighting the Cardinals for the two available wild-card spots, as the Phillies, Pirates and Brewers are all on the rise.

The Dodgers need guys like Cruz in order to stay in the race.  Let's see if the rest of the team can learn from what he is doing.  If they can, the team may actually be able to get into postseason play.

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