Depth charge! 5-8 hitters: 12 H, 5 HR, 10 RBI
LOS ANGELES -- More than anything else, the Dodgers’ sustained run of success has been predicated on their elite depth. For most of the past decade, the bottom half of their starting lineup has never been a question mark. It's been, perhaps, their greatest strength.
Lately, however, that ethos has been put to the test. The Dodgers are without Max Muncy, who dislocated his left elbow in the final game of the season. They're without Justin Turner, who exited Wednesday's game with a left hamstring strain. On top of that, a handful of stars from their 2020 World Series run are shining elsewhere -- notably Kiké Hernández in Boston and Joc Pederson for Atlanta.
And yet, with their backs against the wall in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series on Thursday night, the Dodgers' lineup depth was as emphatic as it’s ever been. Chris Taylor homered three times. AJ Pollock homered twice. Albert Pujols turned back the clock with two hits and a walk.
In total, Los Angeles’ five through eight hitters -- Pollock, Pujols, Taylor and Cody Bellinger -- combined to go a stunning 12-for-18 with five home runs in an 11-2 victory over Atlanta at Dodger Stadium. It’s the biggest reason this NLCS is headed back to Atlanta, with the Braves clinging to a 3-2 series lead.
“It’s huge,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “It's very important. You can look at CT, AJ, those guys are middle-of-the-order guys on any team.”
Yeah, probably. But not the Dodgers, who led the NL in runs scored based largely on their ability to create offense from anywhere in their lineup.
“All year, we've been a pretty deep team top to bottom,” Taylor said. “We pride ourselves on having good at-bats, grinding them out, and passing the baton to the next guy.”
Ultimately, it’ll be Taylor who grabs the headlines for his performance in Game 5 -- and deservedly so. He’s just the 11th player to hit three homers in a postseason game and the first to do so with his team facing elimination. He also drove in six runs, becoming the first player in postseason history with at least six RBIs from the No. 7 spot or lower in the batting order.
Of course, that’s largely a product of the offense around him. The Dodgers fell behind, 2-0, in the first inning, but it was the bottom of their order that sparked a comeback. Pollock homered to start the second inning, getting L.A. on the board. Pujols followed with a laser single into left. Taylor drove him in with the first of his three dingers.
“You need to regroup,” Pujols said of the early deficit. “We did a great job, I think. You put your head down and just put good at-bats together.”
Few teams have the ability to do that, one through nine, quite like the Dodgers. Their offense has struggled against some quality pitching this October. But it still features a handful of the toughest outs in baseball -- even without Turner and Muncy.
On Thursday night, the Dodgers pounded out 17 hits, 11 of which came with two strikes.
“I saw fight,” Roberts said when asked about his team’s two-strike approach. “There were at-bats that, in games past, were ended with chase. I just saw them continuing to fight. I saw the ability and the desire to use the other side of the baseball field to keep the line moving. That's who we are when we're at our best.
“We can slug, as you saw some homers tonight, but those shift busters, and Albert riding out a backdoor breaker, that's stuff that really gets my juices going.”
Come Saturday night, the Dodgers’ offensive depth will be tested again. Pujols has started exclusively against left-handers this postseason, so it seems unlikely he’d start against righty Ian Anderson in Game 6. Gavin Lux could return to the lineup, and -- with Turner out -- Pollock seems destined for his first start against a right-hander in this postseason.
Then again, the way the Dodgers swung it on Thursday night, it didn’t matter who was on the mound. Pollock homered against Fried in the second. Then he homered against righty Jacob Webb in the eighth.
“CT was getting me jealous,” Pollock quipped. “Multiple homers -- it motivated me.”
If, indeed, Thursday’s game marked the start of an offensive breakout, perhaps it’s fitting that it began with a couple of bats toward the bottom of their lineup.
“AJ hitting the homer right there gave us some life, and then CT with that two-run homer, and then you follow it up with two more homers from CT. AJ had a huge night,” Roberts said. “You can't always play for slug. But those guys stepped up big and allowed us to win a baseball game.”