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The almost hidden gem behind Dodgers' strong offensive start

April 23, 2010 |  3:10 pm
Now there, take heart ye Dodgers faithful. The loss of Manny Ramirez is hardly welcomed news. Teams don’t lose their cleanup hitter and exactly celebrate.

But almost lost amid the offensive output the Dodgers’ outfield has been putting up, is a comparatively quieter contribution that has been just as significant.

Rafael Furcal is back.

Not that he wasn’t here last year, he just wasn’t here in his full Rafael Furcal splendor. Just sort of a reasonable facsimile. Furcal Lite.

Thus far this season, however, he has been the Furcal of old. The Furcal before the 2008 back surgery, the Furcal the Dodgers re-signed to a three-year, $30-million deal.

Furcal is batting .344 (third on the team and 10th in the National League), is second on the team in runs (15), and perhaps most significantly, second in the National League in stolen bases (seven).

Last year, he didn’t steal his seventh base until Sept. 14. He’s been caught just once.

He is one of the key reasons the Dodgers lead all of baseball in runs (98) and average (.311). A leadoff hitter providing spark, just as the Dodgers gambled when they signed his new contract after the back surgery.

Furcal stole a career-high 46 bases for the Braves in 2005 and then 37 the next season with the Dodgers. The last two years combined, he stole only 20.

Last season his back held up, as he hit .269, scored  92 runs, hit nine homers, had 47 RBIs and stole 12 bases. All fine numbers, but certainly not special, not Fucal-esque.

Not like now. Not with another year of conditioning his back. Not with regained confidence.

It’s not just his offensive contributions making a difference. Furcal, 32, continues to be one of the game’s finest shortstops. And he’s playing hard, diving for balls, playing like it matters.

And having Furcal play like Furcal matters.

-- Steve Dilbeck