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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Gavin Lux, and the choice Dodgers’ Dave Roberts faces for NLDS Game 5


Editor’s Note: This is an issue of Inside the Dodgers newsletter released Wednesday 13 October by reporter JP Hoornstra. To receive the newsletter to your mailbox, register here.


After my second NLDS game, I identified the depth of the Dodgers’ roster as a potential weakness to exploit. This is the only place on the list where the San Francisco Giants can claim an edge over their rivals, at least on paper.

A funny thing happens in this series, which now scores 2-2 in San Francisco’s fifth winner-take-all game. The few top-notch strikers on both teams have very little impact.

Justin Turner – 1 for 17. Trea Turner – 3 for 18. AJ Pollock – 2 for 10. This trio totaled zero home runs and three RBIs.

For the giants, Mike Jastrzemski – 0 for 12. Darin Roof: 0 for 7. Donovan Solano – 0 for 5. This trio came together for no reason. Nothing.

This kind of thing can happen in short episodes. I could probably single out four games in the 2021 regular season where all of these players experienced a similar decline. In the playoffs, a player can only get one hit from first to last, but if that hit is a critical home run, we’re celebrating. Of all the teams, the Dodgers know exactly what it looks like.

Who will get this hit in the fifth game?

Unexpectedly, Gavin Lux is on the shortlist.

Lux hit the baseline in all four of his appearances in Game 4. His two in-game singles hit left and right margins, a continuation of his choppy spray chart from the 2021 regular season. At 23, the former first-round pick finally seemed comfortable in a big playoff moment.

Along with Cody Bellinger’s “2 out of 4” ranked seventh, the bottom of the lineup suddenly became a strong point for the Dodgers, not a weakness.

How does this change manager Dave Roberts’ calculation for Game 5?

Before first baseman Max Muncie stretched his elbow excessively in the final game of the season, Dave Roberts’ only real line-up choice was left and right. The easiest way would be to assemble a platoon. Right-handed strikers Pollock and Chris Taylor could start from left and center, respectively, against lefties. Lux and Bellinger could start against right-handers. There were other factors to consider, but the options were relatively simple.

The loss of Muncie complicated the equation. In the NLDS, the choice of who to start was down to five players (Pollock, Taylor, Bellinger, Lux and Albert Pujols) in three defensive positions (left, center, first base). Pujols does not play in the field. Lux, Pollock and Taylor don’t play first. Otherwise, positional assignments are more or less interchangeable. Who will finish in Game 5 against right-hander Logan Webb?

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On Tuesday, Roberts said that Lux will be on the lineup. Exactly where he plays on the pitch remains to be announced, and he echoed that thought during a telephone conversation with reporters on Wednesday.

Bellinger went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in the first game, so he won’t be able to start against Webb in the fifth game. But either he or Taylor is the best choice for defense in midfield.

“This is a bigger shot. There is also real estate, ”Roberts said of Oracle Park. “I think it all comes down to the fact that you either trust the guy (in midfield) or you don’t, and he either plays or he doesn’t.”

Roberts has two other left-handed strikers at his disposal, Billy McKinney and Matt Beaty. Given the depressing offensive play of the Dodgers in Game 1 (no walks, five hits, and only three beats with a runner in a winning position), there is good reason to shake things up. McKinney has been a bad hitter (.146 / .276 / .232) in 37 games against the Dodgers. Beaty was a good striker this season (0.270 / 0.363 / 0.402) and as a starter he was better than a substitute.

This choice does not necessarily qualify as a “good problem.” The need to prioritize offense only came about because Taylor, Pollock, Turners and even Corey Seeger (4 out of 17, one RBI) were far from their best against the Giants. Bellinger’s exit from the ongoing recession, to the extent that he exited at all, still seems new. Lux’s success is also short-lived. One National League scout who followed the Dodgers all over the site told me he doesn’t buy what he sees from Lux. “The guy from the platoon is for me,” the scout told me in a text message.

In one game, even a guy from a platoon can make a difference. All it takes is one big blow. The Dodgers’ chances of getting one hit from 6-8 positions in hitting order are better now than they were a week ago, and that’s already something. I just don’t know who will hit sixth, seventh and eighth in game five.


Editor’s Note: Thanks for reading the Inside the Dodgers newsletter. To receive the newsletter to your mailbox, register here.


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