The Dodgers have their two co-stars in Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman. They trust their ensemble of background, platoon-optimizing talent
Instead, when the club’s postseason campaign begins next month, it could be their supporting cast — and middle of the order bats Will Smith, Max Muncy and J.D. Martinez most of all — that determines their October fate most.
“For us to do what we need to do, which is win 11 games in October, it needs to be more than the Mookie and Freddie show,” manager Dave Roberts said this week. “It can’t be [just them].”
Look no further than Friday’s 6-3 win in Seattle as to why.
In front of a lively T-Mobile Park crowd, against a talented Mariners team in the thick of the American League wild-card race, Betts reached base twice but neither scored nor drove in a run. Freeman went 0 for three with a hit by pitch, held hitless in back-to-back games for the first time in almost a month.
Instead, on a night they faced an All-Star rookie starter in George Kirby, the Dodgers (89-57) got their offense from other places.
A leadoff single in the fifth inning by Jason Heyward was followed by a go-ahead two-run homer from Miguel Rojas, turning an early 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead.
Then, the trio of Smith, Muncy and Martinez carried the team the rest of the way.
In the top of the sixth, Smith was hit by a pitch, Muncy laced an RBI triple into the right-field corner and Martinez smacked an RBI single to center to make it 4-1.
After the Mariners (81-66) chipped away later, getting back within one by scoring three times against the Dodgers’ own rookie starter, Bobby Miller, in 5 ⅔ innings, it was the middle part of the L.A. order that delivered again in the eighth, with Martinez lining a critical two-out, two-strike single the other way to score an insurance run.
“Teams are gonna try to navigate [Betts and Freeman],” said Roberts, whose club trimmed its magic number to clinch the National League West to two. “It’s gonna create opportunities for Will, Max and J.D. to have to get hits and conduct good situational at-bats.”
While the Dodgers rank top-two in the majors in on-base-plus-slugging percentage in Betts’ and Freeman’s Nos. 1 and 2 spots, and second and third in the Nos. 7 and 8 holes, respectively, the production from Smith, Muncy and Martinez in between has been hit or miss.
At times this year, each of the three have looked like stalwarts. Smith earned his first career All-Star selection. Muncy has racked up yet another 35-homer season. Martinez has marked his bounce-back campaign with 86 RBIs in just 98 games.
At other points, however, each has gone missing. Smith entered Friday with a pedestrian .727 OPS in the second half. Muncy’s batting average is .209, and even lower with runners in scoring position. Martinez has missed extensive time recently with a midsection injury.
That’s why, when the topic of the Dodgers batting order arose this week, Roberts stressed the importance of those three veterans.
The same way every star-studded movie cast needs strong supporting performances, the Dodgers need their second-tier bats to bolster their production when October rolls around.
“He’s right,” Martinez said of Roberts’ comments. “You got the two horses up front in Freddie and Mook, and you gotta be able to have your three, four, five hitters protect those guys so they get pitches to hit. Tonight was one of those where, Freddie and Mookie didn’t carry the load for once, and we were able to get the job done.”
Friday’s game offered other potential October glimpses.
Miller struck out seven in a stressful 91-pitch outing, experiencing the kind of high-pressure environment he’ll encounter as — according to Roberts’ pregame comments — the Dodgers’ likely Game 1 or Game 2 playoff starter.
“I love that kind of energy out there,” Miller said, despite failing to complete six innings for the first time since Aug. 4. “I felt like I stayed really calm when it got super loud out there. I like those moments a lot. But lately, I’ve been trying to not get too high in those moments. Trying to calm myself down, deep breaths.
The Dodgers also used the core of their bullpen, turning to Caleb Ferguson and Brusdar Graterol to escape sixth- and seventh-inning jams, respectively, before closing things out with scoreless innings from Ryan Brasier in the eighth and Evan Phillips in the ninth.
“Potentially,” Roberts said with a smirk when asked if it was a potential dress rehearsal for October. “We got some good options back there.”
Still, the most important playoff previews came courtesy of the Dodgers’ middle three hitters, who provided the kind of high-leverage production that can overcome pitching deficiencies, prop up an otherwise top-heavy lineup, and just maybe prolong the club’s upcoming postseason run.