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Red-Hot Adrian Gonzalez Adds Another Weapon to Dangerous Dodgers Offense

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterAugust 23, 2016

CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 22: Adrian Gonzalez #23 of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrates with manager Dave Roberts after hitting a three-run home run in the seventh inning for his third homer of the game against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on August 22, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Even with Adrian Gonzalez's awesomeness meter at less than 100 percent for most of the season, the Los Angeles Dodgers haven't had much trouble hitting in 2016.

Just imagine what they can do now that his meter is far past 100 percent.

There was a hint of what it could be like Monday afternoon at Great American Ball Park. The Dodgers opened a proverbial can of whoop-ass on the Cincinnati Reds, beating them 18-9 to split a four-game series. Gonzalez was responsible for eight of those runs, seven of which came on a trio of home runs.

Here, gaze upon said dingers with glee:

This is the second time Gonzalez, 34, has clubbed three homers in a game. The other time he did it was April 8, 2015, which seemed to signal his seemingly long-lost power was ready for a comeback. Sure enough, he hit 28 homers last year—the most since he clubbed 31 in 2010.

It's a similar story this time around. The home runs Gonzalez hit were only his 13th, 14th and 15th of 2016, but they upped his total in August to six. That's twice as many as the veteran first baseman hit in any other month this year.

Now, you could point out that while one of Gonzalez's dingers was a legit moonshot, the others were pop flies that may not have been home runs in other parks. If you do that, you're either a nitpicker...or Adrian Gonzalez himself.

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"It's tiny; the ball flies," Gonzalez said of the Reds' digs after the game, per Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register. "Right field's really short. Left field plays short.

"I hit two fly balls for home runs today. It could easily have been a 1-for-6 game with five outs. It ends up being a pretty good day."

Still, we're not about to let Mr. Modesty bust a perfectly good narrative. Especially since this one's, well, perfectly good.

CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 22: Adrian Gonzalez #23 of the Los Angeles Dodgers hits a solo home run in the fifth inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on August 22, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

This season hasn't been Gonzalez's best, but it has been a tale of two stretches in which the second is better than the first. That's an easy thing to pull off if you start from a low enough place—such as the one Gonzalez occupied earlier this year.

Through May 16, he was batting .282 with a .408 slugging percentage—well short of his .493 career mark. Over half his batted balls were going on the ground, and he was also pulling the ball just 31.2 percent of the time.

It turned out Gonzalez was still battling a bad back that had plagued him down the stretch in 2015. That prompted Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts to give Gonzalez a couple of days off, during which he received treatment.

Not counting Monday, Gonzalez had hit .304 with a .451 slugging percentage since his return. In this span, he's put only 44.8 percent of his batted balls on the ground and pulled the ball 40.8 percent of the time.

By getting more balls airborne and using his pull side more frequently, Gonzalez has been using two of three recommended ingredients for power hitting. The other? Hard contact, which leads us to the monthly progression of his hard-hit rate:

  • April: 30.0%
  • May: 31.9%
  • June: 32.9%
  • July: 27.4%
  • August: 43.1%

Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs highlighted how Gonzalez's hard-hit rate hasn't experienced a peak like this since about two-thirds of the way through 2015. And since he was already doing everything else he needed to do to hit for power, finding this upturn was probably inevitable.

CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 22: Adrian Gonzalez #23 of the Los Angeles Dodgers is congratulated by Chase Utley #26 after hitting a three-run home run against the Cincinnati Reds in the first inning at Great American Ball Park on August 22, 2016 in Cincinnati,
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Gonzalez was hitting .368 with a 1.014 OPS in August even before he went off for three jacks. If this is at all indicative of what he can be for the Dodgers down the stretch, Roberts has every right to feel the way he does about his lineup.

"Very excited for our offense," he said after Monday's game, per Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times.

The Dodgers offense has been the best in the National League since the All-Star break, and not just because Gonzalez has gotten hot. Also heating up any room they walk into are young studs Corey Seager (22) and Joc Pederson (24) and ol' standbys Justin Turner, Yasmani Grandal and Howie Kendrick. Chase Utley hasn't been consistent since the break, but he's been powerful, with six home runs.

The timing couldn't be better. Los Angeles had been getting away with makeshift starting pitching all season, but not anymore. After Scott Kazmir's latest flop Monday, Dodgers starters have a 6.67 ERA in August.

Help is on the way. Trade-deadline acquisition Rich Hill, he of the 2.25 ERA, is slated to make his Dodgers debut Wednesday. Clayton Kershaw, ace pitcher extraordinaire, could return in September.

But as we talked about over the weekend, there's a nonzero chance Hill and Kershaw are rusty when they come back. Whatever regular-season innings they log could be just as much about getting back into form as they are about shutting down opposing lineups.

As such, the Dodgers' need for offense will remain intact. It can only help that vintage Gonzalez has returned. He's in a lineup that's facing a tall order, but the unit looms that much larger now that he's swinging a hot stick.

     

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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