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Max Muncy optimistic he could be Dodgers’ October surprise despite struggles

Dodgers' Max Muncy points to the sky as he nears home plate after hitting a two-run home run against Oakland on Sept. 23.
Dodgers’ Max Muncy points to the sky as he nears home plate after hitting a two-run home run against the Oakland Athletics on Sept. 23.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Max Muncy’s 2020 season has been marked by frustration.

It started when he fractured a finger on his left hand during a scrimmage in Dodgers summer camp. He returned in time for opening day but wasn’t the same hitter. He’s spent most of the season batting under .200. Through Wednesday’s games, he had a team-high 58 strikeouts, and his line-drive rate plummeted through 56 games.

After Muncy earned a three-year, $26-million contract extension for bursting onto the scene with All-Star level production the last two seasons, 2020 has been rough for him.

“I think frustration is certainly one of the things,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “He’s an All-Star player and hasn’t got on track yet. I always think it’s a good thing to let the player know that we’re all in it together.”

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Despite his struggles, the Dodgers have stuck by the 30-year-old Muncy, keeping him in the middle of the lineup in September while he’s settled in at first base over the last week. The faith might pay dividends. Muncy hit a home run in consecutive games Tuesday and Wednesday for the second time this season, bringing his home run total to 12.

“It means a lot to me,” Muncy said. “It means a lot to my confidence, it means a lot to my approach knowing I’m doing the right things, I’m just not getting the results. My process is there. It’s just baseball’s a hard sport and 2020 is a hard year and both those things colliding together.

“It just hasn’t been the greatest, but thankfully I’m on the best team in baseball and probably the [most fun] team in baseball on top of that, so it’s helped me out a lot.”

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This wasn’t the season to get off to a bad start. The 60-game schedule didn’t afford much time to rebound from stumbles and get on track. In a normal year, the 56th game is played in late May. It’s one-third of the season. It’s ancient history by October. But 2020 is different, and the postseason is knocking. Muncy acknowledged that reality, one that Cody Bellinger and Joc Pederson also face in down seasons.

Bellinger is batting .349 over his last 12 games through Wednesday to raise his average to .239 — the highest it’s been since the second game of the season. Pederson, who has recently dealt with a personal off-field matter, was batting .177 with a .639 OPS in 128 plate appearances.

“It’s extremely difficult, but at some point you have to realize that it really isn’t about you,” Muncy said. “Whether you do great or do terrible, all that matters is the team winning. The ultimate goal is for the team to win, not for you to win personally. Once you can realize that, it makes it a little bit easier.”

Julio Urías came out of the bullpen to pitch 6 innings in the Dodgers’ 6-4 loss to the Oakland Athletics, giving Dave Roberts another playoff option.

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The Dodgers have charged forward just fine without Muncy’s typical production. They still have the best record in the majors. They still clinched the No. 1 seed in the National League and their eighth consecutive NL West title. But Muncy‘s combination of power and strike zone control could prove crucial in October, when the pitching is consistently better and results hang on every at-bat.

Muncy has six home runs in 85 career postseason plate appearances. He’s hit a walk-off home run in the World Series. He’s performed when it’s mattered most. A repeat would only help the Dodgers end their 32-year championship drought.

“I’d say I feel good, but I’ve felt good all year long and things haven’t necessarily worked out how I wanted them to,” Muncy said. “But hopefully once October hits, things will change for me.”


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