When the Los Angeles Dodgers traded for Boston Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez in 2011, they pretty much knew what they were getting: a solid middle of the lineup guy who would hit near .300 and drive in 100 RBIs, but with declining power.
Gonzalez’s ability to hit the long ball proved challenging after surgery on his right shoulder in 2010. His home run numbers dipped, hitting 22 home runs last year and only 18 in 2012. Baseball writers said this was the new Gonzo, a doubles man who will still drive in runs, but lacks elite power. The left-handed slugger who racked up 30-35 homers for the San Diego Padres was long gone. He couldn’t drive the ball to center and left field anymore. Dodgers coaches, even Gonzalez himself, echoed the sentiment: he was just a different hitter.
But so far this year, Gonzalez is proving everyone, including himself, dead wrong. Of his nine home runs this year, five of them have been hit to left field. Gonzo only hit three opposite-field home runs in all of 2013. He’s showing strength to all fields, the latest a 400-foot opposite field blast against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. The Dodgers’ first baseman is hitting .302, leads the NL in home runs, is second in RBI with 25 and his 1.022 OPS is good for fourth, with Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki leading the way.
With the mobility back in that right shoulder, Gonzalez’s swing is finishing higher, giving the balls hit more home-run trajectory. He’s also much more aggressive. Pitchers are challenging him with balls in the zone, and he is making them pay. Eventually, opposing teams will do their homework and stop giving Gonzalez so many hittable balls. But he is a disciplined, patient hitter, and you’ll see his walks and OBP rise as the season goes on.
The return of Gonzalez’s power swing will make him a mainstay at the top of the National League MVP race. The Dodgers’ “butter and egg man,” as broadcaster Vin Scully calls him, will have plenty of opportunity to drive in runs in the middle of this lineup. It looks as though the Adrian Gonzalez who terrorized the Dodgers with the San Diego Padres is back. Don’t be surprised to see him hit 30-plus home runs, and if L.A. wins the NL West, Gonzalez will come home with his first MVP award, the first Dodger to do so since Kirk Gibson in 1988.
Up next the Dodgers will face off against the Washington Nationals, followed by a series with the rival San Francisco Giants. Make sure to check our Barry’s Tickets for Dodgers vs Giants tickets in 2014.