Hanley Ramirez (right) in NLDS Game 3 against the Braves on Oct. 6. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The Los Angeles Dodgers, who face the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series tonight, were nearly invincible in the second half of the regular season for a variety of reasons — but Hanley Ramirez may have been chief among them. After missing 24 games in April following thumb surgery and 28 games in May because of a hamstring strain, Ramirez returned to the Dodgers and they were even better offensively. Adrian Gonzalez may have been the steadying hand all season and Yasiel Puig may have provided the spark that ignited a sluggish team, but Ramirez is the team’s one-man wrecking crew.

In the 82 games Ramirez played in from June 4 to the end of the regular season, his production was jaw-dropping: a .341/.398/.628 triple slash line, essentially a 1.026 slugging percentage, 19 home runs and and 56 RBI. In the playoffs, despite lingering nicks and pain, Ramirez has been a force: 8 for 16 with a home run and six RBI. Of his eight hits against the Atlanta Braves, six of them were for extra bases. The Dodgers surely wonder how different their season would have been if Ramirez have been in the lineup all season. But now, how do they ensure his bat stays in there? A heavy dose of trainers and treatment.

Ramirez’s body still requires plenty of care. According to the Los Angeles Times, Ramirez is still dealing with the lingering effects of three different injuries. His left shoulder, which required major surgery two years ago, needs constant maintenance. His left hamstring, too. A nerve problem in his back that slowed him late in the season still persists. But this is the postseason and players are more willing to push their bodies to the limits. Ramirez was on the field for all four games of the NLDS against the Braves and playing the demanding position of shortstop.

Throughout his career, Ramirez has been a frustrating enigma. He was once one of the best players in baseball — the 2006 NL Rookie of the Year, 2009 MVP runner-up and a three-time all-star — and he began to recapture some of that form this season. But he is also known as a prima dona and loafer who got himself traded from Miami to Los Angeles, and had a public spat after his benching by then-manager Fredi Gonzalez. By some accounts, he has been different and more mature in Los Angeles. (But who would complain if he wasn’t anyway given his stellar numbers.) So as the Dodgers take on the Cardinals on Friday night, Ramirez, his hobbled body, improved demeanor and powerful bat will be on display.


8:30 p.m., TBS

RHP Zack Greinke (15-4, 2.63 ERA) vs. RHP Joe Kelly (10-5, 2.69 ERA)