Dodgers' Chris Taylor won't stay anonymous for long

PITTSBURGH -- Chris Taylor, the biggest surprise (non-Cody Bellinger division) in this wondrous Los Angeles Dodgers season, entered Tuesday night's game against the Pittsburgh Pirates with a major league high .394 batting average on balls in play. That lofty BABIP suggests he has been adept at finding holes, and the baseball gods are about to exact revenge with a barrage of line-drive outs to even the score.

If Taylor is going to morph into a glorified utility player, he'd better hurry, because he has a lot of regression to cram into the final six weeks of the season.

The Dodgers beat the Pirates 8-5 on Tuesday to raise their record to 89-35, and an array of contributors got in on the fun.

Adrian Gonzalez joined the 2,000-hit club with a double off reliever Johnny Barbato, and Corey Seager extended his hitting streak to 11 games with a pair of singles. Yasmani Grandal launched a two-run homer in the seventh, and the bullpen threw six scoreless innings after Pittsburgh chased starter Brock Stewart with five runs in the third. Closer Kenley Jansen struck out the side on 14 pitches for his 34th save.

But it all began with Taylor, who set the tone early out of the leadoff spot. Four innings into the game, he had already contributed two singles, a double and driven in three runs on his way to a 3-for-5 evening.

A lot of baseball fans are having a hard time knowing what to make of Taylor these days. He's a Virginia native and a product of the University of Virginia baseball program. He looks unassuming behind a close-cropped beard, and he wears his stirrup socks just below the knees in the old-fashioned style. He's sincere, polite and tries to blend in with the scenery, but it's becoming increasingly more challenging to stay anonymous as a big part of baseball's resident juggernaut.

"We've been asked that question a lot -- who is Chris Taylor?" Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "We don't know yet. There's really no floor, and no ceiling. All I know is, he does a great job of living in the moment and trying to help us win baseball games. It seems like each night he does something, whether it's with his arm, his legs, taking a walk or getting a big hit. For me, that's the mark of a championship player."

The numbers are certainly impressive. In 41 games as the Dodgers' leadoff hitter, Taylor has a .355/.434/.657 slash line. He has made 46 starts in left field, 22 in center, 19 at second base, three at third base and three at shortstop. And his 4.2 wins above replacement ties him for 12th in the National League with two All-Stars -- Miami outfielder Marcell Ozuna and Cincinnati shortstop Zack Cozart.

Taylor has been especially productive with the bases loaded. He's 5-for-8 with three grand slams, 19 RBIs and four walks. His bases-loaded single off Jameson Taillon in the second gave the Dodgers an early 4-0 lead.

"I just try to keep it as simple as I can and get the barrel on the ball," Taylor said. "That's about as simple as I can put it. You have to realize there's more pressure on the pitcher than yourself. I just try to be aggressive in the heart of the plate and not chase pitches out of the zone."

Taylor had to overcome a lot of skeptics to establish himself at age 26. The Seattle Mariners chose him in the fifth round of the 2012 MLB first-year player draft, and he was a consistent .300 hitter in his first three minor league stops. But he slashed a feeble .240/.296/.296 in 86 games over parts of three seasons with the Mariners, and not a lot of people were paying attention when the Dodgers acquired him in a trade for pitcher Zach Lee in June 2016.

Not long after Taylor's arrival in Los Angeles, the Dodgers sent him to Arizona to work on some swing changes with organizational hitting consultant Robert Van Scoyoc. Taylor added a leg kick to help sync his upper and lower halves and made some changes with his hand positioning to eliminate what Roberts calls the "loopiness" in his swing.

After failing to break camp despite a strong showing in spring training, Taylor got the call in April when second baseman Logan Forsythe went on the DL because of a broken toe. The Dodgers quickly saw a new-and-improved version of Taylor.

"He's always had the makeup of a baseball player, the unselfishness and the athleticism," Roberts said. "Now the mechanics are where they need to be, and you get the good pulse. He's not scared of the big moment. That's all translated into production."

Taylor's fourth plate appearance Tuesday, while unproductive in the box score, showed that his heart and mind are in the right place. With runners on first and second and one out, he hit what looked like a double-play grounder to Josh Harrison at third base. But Taylor busted it down the line and beat the throw to first to extend the inning. Seager followed with an RBI single, and the Dodgers went up 6-5.

"That play exemplifies our ball club -- finding a way to extend innings," Roberts said.

Even if the numbers dip down the stretch, Taylor can take pride in knowing he has seized his opportunity and shown that he belongs.

"There are a lot of really good players who are up and down from Triple-A to the big leagues," Taylor said. "There's a very short leash up here. There are so many good players ready to take your job. A lot of times, it's just [a matter of] good timing and finding the right place."

For Taylor, the right place is Dodger Stadium, where he has emerged as a central figure on a team with a .718 winning percentage and legitimate world championship aspirations. The questions keep on coming. But he's letting his play provide the answers.