Low profile suits Cubs' Ramirez
Despite gaudy numbers, slugger flies happily under radar
CHICAGO -- During the Cubs' very brief three-game 2007 National League Division Series, Aramis Ramirez was 0-for-12. That's zero hits. It's a streak the third baseman hopes to end on Wednesday.
Ramirez and the NL Central champs begin the first round of postseason play against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLDS at 5:30 p.m. CT at Wrigley Field. Chicago's Ryan Dempster (17-6, 2.96 ERA) will face Derek Lowe (14-11, 3.24 ERA) in the series opener.
This Cubs team is more balanced offensively with five players with 20 or more home runs in Alfonso Soriano (29), Ramirez (27), Geovany Soto (23), Mark DeRosa (21) and Derrek Lee (20). Jim Edmonds has hit 19 homers with the Cubs, 20 for the season. They have four players with 80 or more RBIs in Ramirez (111), Lee (90), DeRosa (87) and Soto (86).
Ramirez has been the most consistent of the group. It's the sixth time in the past eight years that he's totaled 100 RBIs. He set career highs with 44 doubles, a .380 on-base percentage and 74 walks. He led the Major Leagues in "close and late" situations with a .423 average, hitting nine home runs and totaling 29 RBIs in those instances.
Yet, whenever there's talk about Most Valuable Player, Ramirez's name is rarely mentioned.
"That's perfect, actually," Ramirez said. "That's the way I like it to be. I don't like the attention. I just come here and play the game and do my job."
His teammates recognize his contributions.
"Every game-winning hit -- it's a joke," Chicago's Ryan Theriot said. "This guy is always coming through when you need him.
"He stays under the radar, and I don't know why he's stayed under the radar. The last six years, he's driven in 100 runs and played great third base and hit a bunch of homers and hit for average."
The other Ramirez in this series -- the Dodgers' Manny -- likely will be in the spotlight more than the Cubs' Aramis. Manny has the dreadlocks, the flashy smile, the 37 homers, 121 RBIs for the season. But Aramis is the man the Cubs want up in clutch situations.
"He's been our anchor all year and without him we wouldn't be in this position," Edmonds said. "He's about as solid a No. 4 hitter as you get in this league. Definitely a pleasant surprise to watch him play all year. I didn't appreciate him playing against him. It was nice to watch him play up close all year."
Forty-nine of Ramirez's total RBIs came when he had two strikes. That's tops in the Majors, matched this year by Milwaukee's Ryan Braun. Ramirez's 81 hits with two strikes were tied for third most in the big leagues with Boston's Dustin Pedroia. He delivered a walk-off home run June 20 against the White Sox in a 4-3 win. He belted a three-run shot in the bottom of the eighth July 11 against San Francisco in a 3-1 victory.
Bottom line: He likes hitting when runners are on base in clutch situations.
"He doesn't change his approach for anything," Edmonds said. "He tries to hit line drives in the gap and gives you great at-bats all the time. That's what you need to be an RBI machine like he is."
Some ballplayers aren't comfortable in those situations. Ramirez is.
"It's a situation you have to enjoy being in, but if you're a good hitter, it doesn't really matter," Chicago's Daryle Ward said. "If it's a pressure situation or not, you have to treat it the same and I think that's why he is able to come through in the clutch because he's going about the at-bat the same as he does in the other at-bats. He doesn't make it any more important. And because he thinks that way, the pressure is on the pitcher more than it is on him."
Ramirez is well aware of his postseason numbers last year.
"Arizona pitched well last year -- they had Brandon Webb," Ramirez said. "[The Dodgers] have a good team. You can't try to do too much. You just have to take whatever the pitcher gives you. That's the key. They have good pitching, good starting pitching, a good bullpen. We have to bring our 'A' game."
Did the Cubs try to do too much in the 2007 playoffs?
"Yes, including myself," Ramirez said. "I was trying to do too much. We were pressing a little bit after we fell behind, 0-2. Hopefully, we win the first game tomorrow."
Ramirez wasn't the only Cubs player who didn't hit last October. As a team, the Cubs batted .194 in the three games against the D-backs. The Dodgers have the best pitching staff in the National League with a 3.68 ERA and held opposing hitters to a .251 average. It's not an easy assignment.
"Hit the ball," Ward said of the game plan. "That's the only thing you can do. You try to stay relaxed and you get in an atmosphere like this in the playoffs where everything is intense and exciting and the adrenaline is pumping, and you have to find a way to calm everything down and slow everything down like it's the rest of the season.
"From our experience last year, we're pretty ready for the playoffs this year," Ward said. "That was an experience you never forget."
The Cubs did collectively hit .278 this season. They had not finished with a higher batting average since hitting .287 in 1937.
"I think we're a better team," Ramirez said, comparing this year's Cubs to the 2007 team. "Last year, we played good, too, but we didn't get it done. If we're healthy, we have a pretty good team."
The television camera crews are usually at DeRosa's locker before he gets there, waiting for a sound bite. The same is true of Theriot. That's how Ramirez likes it.
[DeRosa and Theriot], they can handle [the media]," Ramirez said. "I can sit here and talk to [pitcher Carlos] Marmol."
What about MVP? Ramirez's numbers aren't as flashy as Philadelphia's Ryan Howard or St. Louis' Albert Pujols, but he deserves consideration.
"DeRosa's the MVP," Ramirez said. "He can have it. I'm just here to do my job."
That's all the Cubs want.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.