Dodgers need a new postseason hero to step up in Max Muncy’s absence

While it hasn’t officially been announced, I’d be utterly shocked if Max Muncy plays another game this season after the elbow injury he suffered in Sunday’s season finale.

Muncy had been the Dodgers most consistent and important hitter for most of the season before an August/September that saw him hit just .203/.290/.479 (217 plate appearances). If you put any stock into postseason numbers, then the Dodgers are going to have to find a way to replace a guy who has hit .233/.400/.481 in the playoffs since 2018, including .250/.438/.467 in last year’s postseason.

The Dodgers might be able to ride the quartet of Mookie Betts, Corey Seager and the Turners — Justin and Trea — through the playoffs (2019 Nationals’ style), but that’s a lot of pressure to put on four guys on a team lauded for its depth. Still, that’s two of the Top 10 players in baseball (Betts, Trea), a Top 25-30 guy (Seager) and a postseason hero (Justin). That’s more than some teams can boast.

But what about the rest of the guys? AJ Pollock and Will Smith exist, and they have been terrific this season. Pollock has been great the last two seasons, but as a Dodger, he’s hitting just .167/.224/.204 in 58 postseason plate appearances. Small sample size for sure, and most that is marred by his dreadful 0-for-13, 11-strikeout performance in the 2019 NLDS, but if the Dodgers are truly hoping to rely on Pollock, they’re playing with fire. Smith had, perhaps, the biggest hit of the 2020 postseason when he hit that 3-run homer off … Will Smith in Game 5 of a must-win game. Outside of that, his postseason numbers aren’t terribly impressive: .183/.264/.305 in 91 plate appearances. Something about Dodger catchers and struggling at the plate in the playoffs, I guess.

Is Chris Taylor the answer? Maybe, but his second half struggles (.223/.290/.419) are real. He’s been relegated back to utility man duty for the time being, but Muncy’s injury could force him back into the lineup more regularly.

The most logical answer is Cody Bellinger. He’s a first baseman and a former National League MVP. However, his struggles this season — some of which I outlined last month — make that seem a bit unlikely. The 2018 NLCS MVP, the guy who hit a game-tying home run in Game 7 of the 2020 NLCS and the guy who got the Dodgers on the board first in last year’s World Series is, currently, a shell of his former self.

Maybe Albert Pujols — against lefties — finds something for the postseason in search of his third World Series title. But he’s 137 years old and there’s only so much he can do.

If the Dodgers are looking for production from anyone else not named Austin Barnes and (maybe) Matt Beaty, then this could end up being a short postseason run. And if they’re looking for key contributions from those guys, it will be a short postseason run.

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Losing Muncy is a big blow. Not as big as if they had lost one of the Top 4 guys above, but still a loss nonetheless. Pitching wins championships (and there are some concerns on that side of the ball, too), but the Dodgers — which led the NL in runs scored — are going to have to bring the lumber if they want to repeat. That is, if they can get past Adam Wainwright and the Cardinals in the Wild Card Game.

Maybe Pollock shakes off his postseason demons. Maybe Taylor hits like first-half Taylor. Maybe Bellinger takes 20 cortisone shots and is able to make it through a month’s worth of postseason games. Maybe Pujols gets a tune up and is a Machine for 12 wins. We shall see, but it’s going to take a lot for the Dodgers to overcome the loss of Muncy.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosted a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He was a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times and True Blue LA. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.