LOS ANGELES -- Cody Bellinger is in his longest home run drought of the season (31 at-bats). Anybody notice?
It sure hasn’t slowed down the multi-talented, pass-the-baton Dodgers offense, which slugged three home runs in Wednesday night’s 9-4 win at Dodger Stadium to complete a series sweep of the Braves in a rematch of last year’s National League Division Series (which Los Angeles won, 3-1).
Winning starter Clayton Kershaw -- a direct beneficiary of home runs by Enrique Hernández, Max Muncy and Justin Turner -- wasn’t keen on talking about his struggles. But he was effusive about how this victory illustrates why the Dodgers are playing like a team heading for its third consecutive World Series appearance.
“It definitely feels like when you come to the ballpark we’re going to win every night,” said Kershaw, whose team responded to a six-game losing streak by going 17-6. “With the ebbs and flows of a season, you’re not always going to feel that way. But right now, it does. It feels like someone’s going to pick us up. If we’re down, we’ll come back. If we have the lead early, we’ll hold it and add on late.
"A lot of signs of a great team. Different guys contributing all the way through. If we get everybody going at the exact same time, it’s going to be pretty scary.”
Turner, for example, hit his fourth homer in two days, even though he entered last week with none.
“It’s a different hero every night,” Turner said. “A lot of guys in here are capable of changing the game with a swing of the bat, and you saw that tonight.”
Muncy battled through a sore wrist and “wasn’t right mechanically” in April, manager Dave Roberts said. But Muncy is on fire now. He went 3-for-5 with two RBIs and a stolen base. Muncy has 11 RBIs in his last 14 games, and after leading the club with 35 homers in last year's breakout campaign, he has eight home runs and 28 RBIs this season.
What you won’t find in the box score is Muncy's amazing foul ball that extended a seventh-inning at-bat that resulted in a single. He stepped out of the box thinking he’d called for time, but it wasn’t recognized and A.J. Minter delivered an 0-2 slider. Muncy somehow jumped back in the box and fouled off the pitch.
“He tried to call time, wasn’t granted time,” Roberts said. “Fortunately, he fouled off the pitch and took a good swing after that.”
Hernandez got the offense started with his seventh homer, a two-run shot in the second. Just as important, however, were the seven walks the Dodgers drew. Roberts said having this much talent only translates to victories when there’s total buy-in of a win-the-pitch philosophy.
“It’s certainly our identity offensively, and that takes a lot of time to implement, for guys to believe in that, because too many times around baseball when guys are in the batter’s box, they want to be the guy,” Roberts said. “But to be stubborn in the strike zone, to give that next guy an opportunity, that takes discipline and one through eight, when we are really good, we show a lot of discipline.”
Rookie Alex Verdugo, who is getting regular playing time with A.J. Pollock on the injured list, added two hits with an RBI and run scored, drawing praise from Kershaw, who offered his take on how a club built around veterans gets impact production from youngsters, whether it's Bellinger, Verdugo, Corey Seager or Walker Buehler.
“It’s a testament to our clubhouse and the culture we’ve created here,” Kershaw said. “We let young guys come up and be themselves. We’re not trying to haze or anything like that, to make them think they’re not the same as anybody else. I think that’s huge, especially in today’s game. You need your young guys to perform, and to perform really well. You’ve seen that, we’ve had two Rookies of the Year in recent years.
“Now, [Verdugo] is doing his thing, and Walker. We want these guys to feel comfortable and act like they belong. The swagger, the confidence they have. The great thing about guys like Walker, [Verdugo] -- they’re not sensitive. So, some jabs every once in a while, critiques, they take it in stride and that’s what you need.”