Luis Cruz strong down the stretch for the Dodgers

With another three-hit game Thursday night, Luis Cruz continues to be a key part of a Dodgers offense that might be starting to heat up as the season winds down. Even as the offense has shown some life the last few days, Cruz, hitting .333 in September, is the only Dodgers regular hitting over .300 for the month.

One thing to watch with Cruz is whether he is able to get ahead in the count. In at-bats in which he falls behind 0-1, Cruz is hitting .246, not exceptional but better than the league average of .226. However, after getting ahead 1-0, Cruz turns into the best hitter in the league average-wise.

In at-bats in which he takes a first-pitch ball, Cruz is hitting .407, the highest such average in the league among all players with at least 200 plate appearances. Cruz got ahead 1-0 in two at-bats Thursday night and got hits both times.

Cruz hit just .258 in July, his first month with the team, but has hit .333 since. A key difference can be seen in his batted-ball rates. In July half of the balls he put in play were grounders, and he hit line drives about 15 percent of the time. Since the start of August, Cruz has been able to trade some grounders for liners; his groundball rate over that time is 33 percent, and his line drive rate is close to 27 percent, among the best in the league over that time.

Cruz has proven to be an effective low-ball hitter, hitting .326 in at-bats ending with a pitch in the lower third of the zone or below. That’s the sixth-highest average in the league among players who have at least as many at-bats as Cruz has.

Unlike many players without much major league experience, Cruz has also shown he can be effective against breaking pitches. He’s hitting .323 when the at-bat ends with a breaking ball; only four players in the league have more overall plate appearances and a higher average against breaking balls.

Not only providing value just with his bat, Cruz has also been solid with the glove at third base. According to Baseball Info Solutions’ Defensive Runs Saved statistic, Cruz has saved seven runs for the Dodgers while playing third, and he’s done it in fewer than 400 innings. Only five third basemen have been credited with more Defensive Runs Saved than Cruz this season, and all have played at least 1,000 innings at the hot corner.

In this weekend’s series against the Rockies, the Dodgers will see two left-handed pitchers, Jeff Francis and Jorge De La Rosa. Cruz hasn’t seen many lefties at home this season, garnering only 35 at-bats against southpaws at Dodger Stadium. However, he has 12 hits in those 35 at-bats, good for a .343 average. He’s struck out only twice.

Overall, Cruz is hitting .316 and slugging .456 against lefties this season, a key part of a team that is 34-25 when the opponent starts a lefty and 47-50 against righties. With the Dodgers scheduled to face three lefties in their final six games, Cruz figures to continue to be an important contributor to the Dodgers’ final playoff push.