By GERY WOELFEL
Gavin Lux and Jarred Kelenic are making their presences felt at just the right time.
Lux and Kelenic, both former Wisconsin high school standouts, are making key contributions for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Seattle Mariners, respectively.
Lux and the Dodgers are battling to win the National League West Division and are two games behind the front-running San Francisco Giants.
Kelenic and the Mariners are battling for an American League wild-card, trailing the Boston Red Sox by a half game for the second wild-card spot and are just 1½ games behind the New York Yankees for the top wild-card position.
While the Mariners are hoping to halt a two-decade postseason drought, the Dodges have their sights on defending their World Series title.
Lux, a former Kenosha Indian Trail High School standout who was the Dodgers’ first-round pick in the 2016 MLB draft (No. 20 overall), is helping their cause.
After struggling much of the season and being sent to Class AAA to hone his craft, Lux was recalled last month and has given the Dodgers some strong performances while playing in the outfield, either in left or center.
From Sept. 15 until Wednesday, a span of 11 games, Lux has collected 13 hits in 36 at bats, a smokin’ .361 average. In that same stretch, he’s driven in eight runs and scored six times. The Dodgers won nine of those 11 games.
Lux, who is just 23, said he’s made a couple of adjustments at the plate, ones that have obviously paid off.
“I’m not up there as picky as I was before,’’ Lux said. “Before I felt like I was always in two-strike counts. Now it’s like, if I get a good pitch to hit, end the at-bat there.’’
Lux also noted how he’s adjusted his batting stance.
“In years prior, I was way more off the plate and (this season) a lot of teams have been pounding me in,’’ said Lux, who suffered a neck sprain in Wednesday night’s game against San Diego after running into the outfield wall and may miss a couple of games. “So just getting off the plate a little bit and giving myself some space has helped a lot, too.’’
Like Lux, Kelenic’s game has dramatically turned for the better this season. The 22-year-old Kelenic struggled mightily for much of his first season the majors and, at one point, wallowed in a 0-for-39 hitting slump before being sent to Class AAA in June.
But since rejoining the Mariners, Kelenic, a former Waukesha West High School star, seems to have found his groove, especially in the last month.
The Mariners center fielder has 13 hits in 44 at-bats in the last 14 games of September, an impressive .295 batting average. Additionally, in that same stretch, Kelenic drove in 10 runs and scored 12 times.
Kelenic, who was selected by the New York Mets with the sixth overall pick in the 2018 MLB draft before quickly being dealt to the Mariners in a blockbuster deal that netted the Mets star second baseman Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz, among others, has delivered on several occasions in recent weeks.
His latest clutch effort came Wednesday night when he hit a two-run double in the sixth inning to give the Mariners the lead in a 4-2 victory over Oakland. It was the Mariners’ 10th victory in the last 11 games.
“You don’t play in this league at 22 years old unless you’ve got special talent and he does,’’ Mariners manager Scott Servais said of Kelenic. “He does have a ton of talent. You see it every day and you know it’s going to be there.’’
For Kelenic, being in the majors at such a young age and playing a key role in the Mariners’ quest for a playoff berth, is hard to fathom.
“It was just kind of surreal,’’ Kelenic said after Wednesday’s important win. “It’s kind of like one of those things that you see in the movies and you see when you’re young, you see on Sports Center and stuff like that. And when you’re just there, you can only just sit there and look around and just soak it in.’’