Column: Max Muncy injury adds major hurdle to Dodgers’ World Series title hopes

Dodgers first baseman Max Muncy leaves the field with team trainer Neil Rampe.
Dodgers first baseman Max Muncy leaves the field with team trainer Neil Rampe after colliding with Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Jace Peterson and sustaining an elbow injury in Sunday’s win.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

They withstood injury after injury to win 106 games. Defending their World Series championship will require the Dodgers to survive another major one.

When they host the St. Louis Cardinals in the single-game, elimination wild-card round Wednesday, Max Muncy almost certainly won’t be in their lineup.

If the Dodgers win and advance to take on the San Francisco Giants in the divisional round, Muncy isn’t expected there, either.


“I think where we’re at now, it’s unlikely,” manager Dave Roberts said.

Think that sounds bad?

The Dodgers saw their eight-year reign as champions of the NL West come to an end Sunday during their win over the Brewers in the regular-season finale.

Oct. 3, 2021

Well, it’s about to get worse: Roberts intimated the Dodgers were likely to be without their leading home-run hitter for the entire postseason.

“I just don’t want to, we don’t want to, close the door on a potential down-the-road postseason appearance,” Roberts said.

So much for that feeling that was in the air this week at Dodger Stadium, that Roberts’ team had somehow entered a new phase of the season that would carry into the playoffs. Instead, the Dodgers learned they would have to deal with more of the same.

A day after Clayton Kershaw was put on the injured list with what the team described as “left forearm discomfort,” Jace Peterson of the Milwaukee Brewers ran through Muncy’s extended left arm at first base in the third inning.


Muncy, who reached for a throw by catcher Will Smith that struck Peterson’s back, went down clutching his arm.

He writhed in pain on the infield dirt. He screamed. He grimaced.

Dodgers first baseman Max Muncy writhes in pain after colliding with Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Jace Peterson.
Dodgers first baseman Max Muncy writhes in pain after colliding with Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Jace Peterson in the third inning.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Team trainer Neil Rampe, right, and manager Dave Roberts talk to Max Muncy.
Team trainer Neil Rampe, right, and manager Dave Roberts talk to Max Muncy after the Dodgers first baseman was injured in a collision.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The Dodgers lost more than the National League West title on this balmy Sunday. They also lost their late-blooming first baseman, whom they picked up from the scrap heap four years ago.

“He’s been a part of some very special things and really contributed in some huge ways for us,” pitcher Walker Buehler said. “He’s a big part of this team and hopefully we can avoid disaster.”

The team was about as vague as could be in its official update on his condition, saying he had “a left elbow injury.” But Roberts later used the word “scary” to describe Muncy’s condition.

The Dodgers have already endured a number of scares.

Mookie Betts was slowed for the majority of the season by a hip pointer. Corey Seager was sidelined for more than two months because of a broken hand. Cody Bellinger went down because of a hairline fracture in his leg early in the season.

Dustin May pitched only five times before he underwent a season-ending elbow operation. Kershaw sat out more than two months because of forearm trouble. In his fourth start after his return Friday, he lasted only 1 2/3 innings.

And now, at the worst possible time, Muncy is unavailable.

The Dodgers will have to do without his 36 home runs and 94 RBIs, both the most on the team. They will have to do without his postseason experience, which includes nine home runs in the last three years.

Max Muncy hits a triple against the Atlanta Braves on Sept. 1.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Muncy smashed a walk-off home run in the Dodgers’ only win in the 2018 World Series, an 18-inning marathon in Game 3. He drove in 14 runs in 16 postseason games last year, including six in the six games of the World Series.

The Dodgers closed the regular season this year by winning 18 of their last 21 games, scoring an average of 5.8 runs over that period. Muncy batted only .208 during that stretch but still contributed five homers and 15 RBIs.

“I think the past week, 10 days, is probably the best our offense has played,” Buehler said.

The sequence on which Muncy was injured started innocently enough, with Peterson hitting a dribbler halfway back toward the mound. Buehler charged the ball, which was picked up by Smith and fired to first base.

The St. Louis Cardinals rode a 17-game winning streak to claim the second wild-card spot and will face the Dodgers on Wednesday. Here’s why they pose a serious threat.

Oct. 3, 2021

Muncy had his left foot on the second-base side of first base. He left arm was extended over the bag to receive Smith’s angled throw. But the ball hit the back of Peterson, who ran through Muncy’s arm.

Muncy spun counterclockwise and went down.

He was on the ground for a few minutes, as Roberts and a trainer watched over him. He received warm applause when he sat up but had to be taken out of the game and replaced by Albert Pujols.

The play cost the Dodgers a left-handed hitter in the middle of a lineup they would have deployed in the wild-card game against the Cardinals and their right-handed starter, Adam Wainwright.

Muncy is two for seven with a home run and an RBI in his career against Wainwright.

The right-handed-hitting Pujols is one for 10 against his former Cardinals teammate. Another option would be Cody Bellinger, who is one for eight with a double against Wainwright. While Bellinger hits left-handed, he batted only .165 this season and the value he provides is almost exclusively on defense, particularly in center field.

The San Francisco Giants defeated the San Diego Padres on Sunday to capture the NL West title. The Dodgers will play the Cardinals in a wild-card game.

Oct. 3, 2021

“I think it’s more matchup-driven and figuring out what’s going to give us the best chance to win that game,” Roberts said. “Net out the offensive potential and defensive potential as well.”

Compared to Muncy, whomever Roberts chooses figures to result in a net loss. Then again, the Dodgers operated at a deficit for most of the season and tied their franchise record for wins. To win another championship, they’ll have to win 12 more games with an incomplete lineup.