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Los Angeles Dodgers v Texas Rangers
Max Muncy was 4 for 11 with a home run and a double in the Dodgers’ three-game series at Globe Life Field in August. How the Padres will pitch to him could be key in this NLDS.
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

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Three questions for the Dodgers-Padres NLDS

Best-of-5 series begins Tuesday night (6:38 p.m. PT) on FS1

Heading into the showdown National League Division Series between the Dodgers and Padres, in an American League park, here are some questions on my mind about the matchup, and the stadium.

How will Globe Life Field play?

Every Dodgers game the rest of this postseason will be played at the home of the Rangers in Arlington, as Globe Life Field will host the NLCS plus the World Series in addition to this NLDS.

When the Dodgers played in Texas in the final weekend of August, the ballpark was playing big and pitcher friendly, though the Dodgers still managed to hit five home runs in winning two of the three games.

“The turf itself is kind of like Arizona. Knowing the ballpark, getting the reads off the bat, how the infield plays [will help],” manager Dave Roberts said. “I think the roof is going to be open, but when we were here, it was closed.

“From what I understand, it does allow the ball to travel a little bit further. What that means, I really don’t know. It still just comes down to executing pitches and put the barrel on the ball. It’s a level playing field regardless.”

The Rangers played at home with the roof closed in all but one game before September, then played five games with under the open air in the season’s final month. This is a very small sample, but in the games with the roof open (Aug. 10 against Seattle, Sept. 11-12 against Oakland, and Sept. 24-26 vs. Houston), Globe Life Field was much more offensive-minded. For comparison, I included the numbers from Rangers road games, too:

Globe Life Field offense

Split Games Runs Runs/game HR HR/game
Split Games Runs Runs/game HR HR/game
Home, open roof 6 71 11.83 23 3.83
Home, closed roof 24 197 8.21 43 1.79
Rangers road 30 268 8.93 77 2.57
numbers for both teams combined (Rangers and their opponents)

Those six games, one-fifth of Texas’ home games, were enough to get the total runs scored by both teams in Rangers home games to equal their road games.

Will the Padres throw Max Muncy a fastball?

Max Muncy is the Dodgers’ most patient hitter. He led the team in pitches per plate appearance in 2018 and 2019, and is taking even more pitches this year (4.43 per PA), though Will Smith edged him out slightly (4.48).

The Dodgers have reciprocated that patience, with Muncy leading the team in starts and plate appearances this season despite hitting .192/.331/.389. He batted cleanup both games against the Brewers, and will likely remain in the middle of the lineup for now.

There’s not one simple reason why Muncy struggled this season, but he is seeing fewer fastballs than ever, and for good reason. Eleven of his 12 home runs came off fastballs this year, hitting .204 with a .561 slugging percentage against the pitch, with expected numbers based on batted ball data of a .284 average and .677 slugging percentage. Against all other pitches Muncy in 2020 hit .183 with a .231 slugging percentage. His batted balls suggest a .192 average and .301 slugging against non-fastballs.

In 2018, Muncy’s breakout season, he saw fastballs 59.7 percent of the time. In 2019, another excellent year, that went down to 55.6 percent. But this year, Muncy is only seeing fastballs in 49 percent of his pitches.

Against the Padres, it’s even lower, seeing a fastball just 31.8 percent of the time.

Despite his trademark selectivity (4.76 pitches per plate appearance), Muncy is just 4-for-32 (.125) with a double, five walks and 14 strikeouts against San Diego this season, including 1-for-10 on fastballs.

Which rookies will make the biggest impact?

The Dodgers had six rookies on their wild card series roster, but only two of them actually played. Brusdar Graterol got the save in Game 2, and Edwin Ríos was 0-for-3 with a walk as the designated hitter in Game 1.

NL rookies by WAR

Player Pos Team bWAR fWAR avgWAR
Player Pos Team bWAR fWAR avgWAR
Ke'Bryan Hayes 3B Pit 1.8 1.7 1.75
Tony Gonsolin SP LA 1.3 1.8 1.55
Jake Cronenworth IF SD 1.5 1.4 1.45
Devin Williams RP Mil 1.2 1.4 1.30
Ian Anderson SP Atl 1.3 1.1 1.20
Sixto Sanchez SP Mia 1.4 1.0 1.20
Alec Bohm 3B Phi 0.7 1.2 0.95
Dustin May SP LA 1.4 0.4 0.90
Source: Baseball-Reference & FanGraphs

San Diego had five rookies active against St. Louis, but only three played. Top pitching prospects Adrián Morejón and Luis Patiño combined for four scoreless innings in relief.

The big rookie contributor was Jake Cronenworth, who tripled in Game 1, homered in Game 3, and reached base nine times in 12 plate appearances while hitting .625 (5-for-8) in the wild card series.

Cronenworth might be the favorite for National League Rookie of the Year after hitting .285/.354/.477, a 125 wRC+ while starting games at second base, first base, and shortstop. Against the Dodgers during the regular season the pesky Cronenworth was 6-for-16 (.375) with three doubles during the four Padres wins against Los Angeles, and 2-for-20 (.100) with a home run and double in the six losses.

The Dodgers rookies who will play big roles in the NLDS are Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May, who could potentially pitch in relief in one of the first two games, but will, along with Julio Urías, be deployed as either starters or in bulk relief with an opener in the final three games of the series.

May had a 2.60 ERA in three games against the Padres this season, with a strikeout rate against San Diego (24.2 percent) compared to 17.7 percent against everyone else. Gonsolin allowed all of one run on seven hits and a walk in 11⅔ innings against the Padres this season, with 10 strikeouts, both Dodgers wins.

One or both Dodgers rookie starting pitchers figure to play huge roles in this series, which should be an exciting NLDS.

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