Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Here’s how the Dodgers lineup is barreling baseballs and producing bushels of runs

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Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Max Muncy celebrates while crossing home after a solo home run

Dodgers third baseman Max Muncy celebrates after his home run against the Minnesota Twins at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The Dodgers are averaging seven runs per game during their 10-game win streak, batting .304 with an .877 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 14 homers, 35 doubles and two triples since July 31.

Pan out to a wider shot of their torrid 32-5 stretch since June 29, and the Dodgers are averaging a major league-best six runs and batting .281 with an .850 OPS, 54 homers, 92 doubles and 10 triples in the 37 games.

But when asked earlier this week whether the offense is firing on all cylinders, Max Muncy responded in a way that could cause even more trepidation for opposing pitchers trying to subdue a club with a major league-best 77-33 record entering a weekend series at Kansas City.

“Scary enough, I think there’s still a lot more in there for the whole team,” said Muncy, one of the team’s hottest hitters before suffering a right-hand bruise in Wednesday night’s 8-5 win over Minnesota. “It’s been looking really good lately. We’ve been looking good all year long.

“Yet at the same time, not all of us have gotten going all at once. Hopefully we save that for the playoffs. But right now, we’re just taking it one day at a time. We’re playing the game today.”

The Dodgers rank among baseball’s top five teams in average exit velocity (89.5 mph), hard-hit rate (42.0%) and barrels per plate appearance (6.5%), according to Baseball Savant, and though they lead the major leagues with a .450 slugging percentage they are not one-dimensional — they stole 21 bases and hit 19 sacrifice flies during the 32-5 stretch.

On a 113-win pace and with a 16-game lead in the National League West, the Dodgers are well on their way to their ninth division title in 10 years. About their only concern is that they might peak too soon, as they did in 2019, when they won 106 games and the NL West by 21 games before fizzling in a division series loss to the eventual World Series-champion Washington Nationals.

That is why Dodgers manager Dave Roberts grinned when told of Muncy’s comments.

“I like being greedy, I like that mindset,” Roberts said. “It just guards against some complacency. You look at it collectively, and we’re doing a lot of good things. I’m sure you can kind of poke holes, because a couple of guys aren’t red hot right now, but one through nine, it seems like every guy up there is gonna get a hit.

“As a manager, that’s a really good feeling. I think for the first time all year we’ve had nine guys that feel pretty confident when they get in the batter’s box.”

The top four batters in the order — Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, Freddie Freeman and Will Smith — have carried the offense for most of the season, and they’ve combined to hit .333 (54 for 162) with five homers, 15 doubles, 31 RBIs and 32 runs during the 10-game win streak.

Smith has been particularly hot in his last 12 games, shaking off a one-for-25 skid to hit .396 (19 for 48) with a 1.090 OPS, two homers, six doubles and 15 RBIs since July 28, and Gavin Lux has been solid all season, batting .294 with a .790 OPS, 27 extra-base hits and 33 RBIs.

But Muncy and Cody Bellinger, the 2019 NL most valuable player who has struggled so much this season that he’s been dropped to ninth in the batting order, have been heating up. Plus, Justin Turner had three hits in his first two games back from an abdominal strain this week, adding more depth to the lineup.

Muncy was slowed in the first half by his recovery from the left-elbow injury that knocked him out of the playoffs last October, the infielder batting .158 with a .612 OPS, nine homers and 31 RBIs in his first 79 games through late July.

But he is batting .325 (13 for 40) with four homers, four doubles and nine RBIs in 11 games since July 28, and he hit two homers and a double to help the Dodgers sweep a two-game series against the Twins.

“It feels really good,” said Muncy, who left Wednesday night’s game after being struck in the right hand by a 98.1-mph one-hopper at third base in the fifth inning. X-rays were negative.

“It’s a little bit of a relief for me. All the work I’m putting in is finally paying off. But I’ve got to keep at it. I can’t think that I’m out of it yet. I’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

Bellinger is batting .210 with a .668 OPS, 15 homers, 49 RBIs and 111 strikeouts on the season but has made more consistent contact in his last 13 games, batting .250 (12 for 48) with an .873 OPS, three homers, six doubles and 14 RBIs. He homered twice in last Sunday’s win over San Diego.

After tinkering with his stance and swing mechanics often during his six-year career, Bellinger appears to have discarded his Bunsen burner, glass beaker and safety goggles and scrapped his mad-scientist approach to hitting, having found an approach that works for him.

The Dodgers' Cody Bellinger rounds third after hitting his solo home run against the San Diego Padres on Sunday.

Cody Bellinger has 15 home runs and 49 RBIs this season. He hit two homers against the Padres on Sunday. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

“He’s made a lot of swing changes, he was always searching … but he is really understanding his swing and how his body moves,” Roberts said. “When an athlete understands that, it kind of guards against a lot of ups and downs. I think there will be more consistency going forward.”

Justin Turner was on a tear before going on the injured list, hitting .431 (25 for 58) with a 1.180 OPS, four homers and 16 RBIs in 17 games from June 30 to July 27. He doubled, singled and drove in a run with a groundout Tuesday night and doubled in four at-bats Wednesday night.

“It’s remarkable,” Roberts said. “J.T. has had some bouts on the IL, but it’s amazing how he can come back and not miss a beat and take good at-bats, throw hits out there, use the whole field … Having him back in there driving in runs, running counts, seeing pitches, all that stuff just makes our lineup so dangerous.”

As if that weren’t enough, the Dodgers also got significant contributions this week from from Joey Gallo, the former two-time All-Star who is trying to resuscitate his career after a brutal 140-game stretch in New York, where he hit .159 with a .660 OPS, 25 homers, 46 RBIs and 194 strikeouts for the Yankees.

Gallo, acquired at the trade deadline, crushed a 112.3-mph double to right field, the second-hardest hit ball by a Dodger this season, on Tuesday night and a pinch-hit three-run homer in the seventh inning of Wednesday night’s comeback win.

“This is an unbelievably talented group of guys, and the way everybody goes about their business is very special,” Gallo said. “Everybody cares. Everyone wants to win, and I don’t think we’re ever out of any game. I don’t see a lot of outs in that lineup. It’s a lot of hard guys to get out, a lot of guys that can do damage.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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