LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers’ lineup certainly doesn’t lack star power. With the addition of future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols, Los Angeles has four former MVPs on the 40-man roster. They also have last year’s World Series MVP in Corey Seager, though the shortstop will be out for at least six weeks with a fractured fifth metacarpal.
But on a squad full of stars, utility man Chris Taylor continues to be the glue that holds the team together. Taylor won’t win any MVP awards and he likely won’t finish among the top-selling jerseys in the Majors, but his production has been nearly invaluable for the Dodgers.
After being out of the lineup for two games with right wrist soreness, Taylor returned in the Dodgers’ 9-1 win over the D-backs on Tuesday and made an immediate impact, smacking his fifth homer of the season to put the Dodgers out in front.
Taylor is enjoying the best start of his career at the plate, leading the team with a .939 OPS entering Wednesday. He has cut down on chasing balls out of the zone and already has 24 walks this season, two shy of his total last season in 19 fewer games. His walk percentage ranks in the 95th percentile in the Majors.
His ability to not chase outside of the zone is helping him do damage when he gets his pitch. He’s hitting the ball harder than ever, producing a career-best 90.4 average exit velocity. Taylor has also improved against breaking balls this season. In 2020, Taylor hit .153 against breaking pitches. That’s up to .250 so far this season, the highest it’s been since ‘18.
“He plays every at-bat like it’s his last,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “The production, what he’s doing, is no surprise to me. He’s a 'glue' guy. He makes my job a lot easier and gives a lot of other guys, his teammates, runways and other opportunities because of his versatility and unselfishness.”
What Taylor is providing at the plate is a huge boost for the Dodgers, but the defensive versatility he brings to the table is what makes him one of the most valuable players in the Majors. Taylor has been the primary center fielder this season with Cody Bellinger out since April 5. He has also filled in at both corner outfield spots, second base, shortstop and got his first start at third base on Tuesday.
In a season where the Dodgers have been decimated by injuries, Taylor has been one of the constants. His 1.4 bWAR ties him with Mookie Betts for third on the team. He’s behind just Max Muncy (2.3) and Trevor Bauer (1.8), who will undoubtedly represent the Dodgers at the Midsummer Classic. With the way Taylor is playing -- and the value he brings -- he’s making a pretty good All-Star case of his own.
“When he’s in there, you just always expect something good to happen,” Roberts said. “And [for him to] impact the game, whether it’s on the defensive side or in the batter’s box.”
The Dodgers made a change to their pitching plans, which they hope will help them during their weekend series against the rival Giants in San Francisco.
Bauer was scheduled to start in the series finale against the D-backs on Thursday, but the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner will now be pitching on an extra day's rest on Friday against the Giants. Former Dodger left-hander Alex Wood is scheduled to start for the Giants.
The Dodgers have prioritized giving all of their starters an extra day of rest this season. Pitching Bauer on Friday would still allow him to pitch on Wednesday against the Astros.
As for Thursday, the Dodgers will be leaning on a bullpen day for the second time this week. The Dodgers rolled out a bullpen day on Sunday against the Marlins and it was successful, despite the 3-2 loss. Edwin Uceta, Jimmy Nelson and David Price are the likely candidates to start Thursday’s bullpen day. Nelson started on Sunday, tossing 1 2/3 scoreless innings, though the Dodgers would’ve liked him to be more efficient.