October 25, 2021

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

View Original Notice ? Gavin Lux, and the choice Dodgers’ Dave Roberts faces for NLDS Game 5

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Editor’s note: This is the Wednesday, Oct. 13 edition of the Inside the Dodgers newsletter from reporter J.P. Hoornstra. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.

After Game 2 of the NLDS, I identified the Dodgers’ lineup depth as a potential weakness to be exploited. It’s the one place on the roster where the San Francisco Giants might be able to claim an advantage over their rivals, at least on paper.

A funny thing is happening in this series, which is now tied 2-2 heading to San Francisco for Thursday night’s winner-take-all Game 5. Several top-of-the-order hitters on both teams are making very little impact.

Justin Turner is 1 for 17. Trea Turner is 3 for 18. AJ Pollock is 2 for 10. That trio has combined for zero home runs and three RBIs.

For the Giants, Mike Yastrzemski is 0 for 12. Darin Ruf is 0 for 7. Donovan Solano is 0 for 5. That trio has combined for … nothing. Just nothing.

Things like this can happen in a short series. I could probably identify four-game stretches during the 2021 regular season when all of these players endured similar slumps. In the playoffs, a player might collect only one hit from the first out to the last, but if that hit is a home run in a critical situation, we celebrate. Of all teams, the Dodgers know exactly what that looks like.

Who will get that one hit in Game 5?

Suddenly, the short list of candidates includes Gavin Lux.

Lux reached base in all four of his plate appearances in Game 4. His two singles in the game were hit to left field and right field, a continuation of his shift-busting spray chart from the 2021 regular season. At 23, the former first-round draft pick finally seemed comfortable in a big playoff moment.

Along with Cody Bellinger’s 2-for-4 performance out of the seventh spot in the batting order, the bottom of the lineup suddenly looks like a strength for the Dodgers, not a weakness.

How does that change Manager Dave Roberts’ calculus for Game 5?

Before first baseman Max Muncy hyperextended his elbow in the season’s final game, Dave Roberts’ only real lineup choices figured to concern left field and right field. The easy call would be a straight platoon. Right-handed hitters Pollock and Chris Taylor could start in left field and center, respectively, against lefties. Lux and Bellinger could start against righties. There were other factors to consider, but the options were relatively straightforward.

Losing Muncy complicated the equation. In the NLDS, the choice of who to start has boiled down to five players (Pollock, Taylor, Bellinger, Lux and Albert Pujols) for three defensive positions (left, center, first base). Pujols does not play the outfield. Lux, Pollock and Taylor do not play first. Otherwise, the positional assignments are more or less interchangeable. Who will occupy the three spots in Game 5 against right-hander Logan Webb?

Roberts said Tuesday that Lux will be in the lineup. Exactly where he plays in the field remains to be announced, a point he reiterated on a Zoom call with reporters Wednesday.

Bellinger went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts in Game 1, so he is not a shoo-in to start against Webb again in Game 5. But either he or Taylor is the best defensive choice in center field.

“It’s a bigger ballpark. There’s more real estate,” Roberts said of Oracle Park. “I think it just boils down to you either trust a guy (in center field) or you don’t, and he either makes a play or he doesn’t.”

Roberts has two other left-handed hitters at his disposal, Billy McKinney and Matt Beaty. Given the Dodgers’ woeful offensive performance in Game 1 (no walks, five hits, and only three at-bats with a runner in scoring position) there are tangible reasons to shake things up. McKinney was a poor hitter (.146/.276/.232) in 37 games with the Dodgers. Beaty was not a poor hitter this season (.270/.363/.402), and he’s been better as a starter than a sub.

These choices don’t necessarily qualify as “a good problem to have.” The need to prioritize offense only arose because Taylor, Pollock, the Turners, and even Corey Seager (4 for 17, one RBI) have been far from their best selves against the Giants. Bellinger’s emergence from a season-long slump, to the extent that he’s emerged at all, still feels new. Lux’s track record of success isn’t long either. One National League scout who followed the Dodgers down the stretch told me he isn’t buying what he’s seeing from Lux. “Platoon guy for me,” the scout told me via text.

In one game, even a platoon guy can make a difference. All it takes is one big hit. The Dodgers’ odds of getting one hit from the 6-8 spots in the batting order feel better now than they did a week ago, and that’s something. I just have no idea who will hit sixth, seventh, and eighth in Game 5.

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