With AJ Pollock activated from the injured list on Friday, the Dodgers were able to put together a lineup full of position player regulars for only the third time all season. The lineup has gotten longer in the last week, and the results are showing.
The Dodgers scored 11 runs in the first inning on Wednesday, then put up an eight-run fifth inning on Friday. Having such outbursts so close apart is quite rare.
The @Dodgers are the first MLB team to have an 11+ run inning in one game and then an 8+ run inning in their next game since the Astros did it in a doubleheader at Shea Stadium on July 30, 1969.— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) June 5, 2021
The first wave of reinforcements came last Saturday, when Cody Bellinger and Zach McKinstry were activated after missing 46 and 33 games, respectively. Then Pollock was back Friday after missing 18 games. It was Pollock’s first complete game in one month, and only his third start since then.
Going into the season, I’m counting 10 position player regulars for the Dodgers, with both catchers meriting this status, plus Chris Taylor perhaps without a set position but with playing time clearly carved out for him. Since opening day, the Dodgers have fielded a lineup with eight of those 10 regulars just three times — the first two games of the season, and Friday night. If you want to count McKinstry as a regular, the total is 12 such games with eight regulars. Out of 57 games.
Despite the various losses, which still include Corey Seager, who is with the Dodgers on this road trip while rehabbing his broken hand, the Dodgers lead the majors in runs scored (5.39 per game). The big outbursts aren’t skewing the totals as much as you might think, especially of late, having scored at least four runs in 10 of their last 12 games.
The Dodgers’ biggest advantage on offense is in walks (258), with 26 more than any other team, and a walk rate (11.5 percent) well above the next-best teams (10.6 percent). They had five walks, and only three hits, in Friday night’s eight-run frame.
The free passes are a product of the approach and performance, and not the goal.
“When guys are aggressive in the strike zone, the idea of scaring a pitcher out of the strike zone is what we’re shooting for,” manager Dave Roberts said Friday. “When they’re throwing it over the plate, we want to take aggressive swings, and if they don’t, be willing to take the walk. I don’t think passivity and looking for a walk bodes well for production.”
This is borne out in the numbers. The Dodgers’ modus operandi in recent years has been to lay off pitches outside the strike zone, which they’ve done to great aplomb this season. LA’s 26.4-percent chase rate is second-lowest in MLB, but that they are surrounded by the Padres (26.3 percent) and Giants (26.5 percent) is one of the reasons those three division mates have the three best records in the National League.
Punishing pitches inside the zone, though, was a problem for a while, including during the Dodgers’ 5-15 stretch earlier this season. On the season, the Dodgers’ 80.7-percent is tied for 11th in MLB.
The last three position players optioned by the Dodgers — DJ Peters, Sheldon Neuse, and Luke Raley — had the three lowest contact rates in the strike zone on the team. Among the 463 major league players with at least 25 plate appearances this season, Peters (53.1 percent) ranks 461st in zone contact rate, Neuse (67.1 percent) ranks 442nd, and Raley (70.7 percent) is 403rd.
With so many regulars out, those three were getting regular playing time for a while, which is why the acquisitions of Albert Pujols (89.7-percent zone contact rate) and Yoshi Tsutsugo (77.8 percent) made some sense, even with their subpar production. They make even more sense now with more regulars back, now that those two are mostly bench options, with the occasional start mixed in.
Teams: Dodgers (34-23) at Braves (26-29)
Location: Truist Park, Atlanta
Time: 4:15 p.m. PT
TV: Fox (Adam Amin on play-by-play, with analyst A.J. Pierzynski)