LOS ANGELES -- In the 2018 postseason, the Dodgers primarily treated Max Muncy like a platoon player, sitting him against left-handed starters and bringing him off the bench to face right-handed relievers.
That wasn’t the case for Game 1 of the 2019 National League Division Series. Given the opportunity to start against Nationals left-hander Patrick Corbin on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, Muncy spurred the Dodgers’ offense, knocking in three runs in Los Angeles' 6-0 win.
“These are big games, they're big moments and you've got to try to go out there and enjoy them as much as possible, because you don't know how many there are going to be,” Muncy said. “And when you do that, you tend to relax and just play the game. For me, that's the key, is just try to go out there and have fun and enjoy it.”
In the first inning, Muncy drew the last of four walks issued by Corbin in the opening frame to plate A.J. Pollock and open the scoring. In the fifth, Muncy came up with runners on first and third and two outs, and he pulled a ball hard to right that Washington first baseman Howie Kendrick couldn't handle. The play was ruled an error, denying Muncy of an RBI.
Muncy came up in another good spot in the seventh, as the bases were loaded with two outs. He then proceeded to drive a 2-1 fastball from right-hander Fernando Rodney to right field to plate two runs and push the Dodgers' lead to 4-0.
“I was trying to ride through whatever [Rodney] was throwing up in the zone,” Muncy said. “I felt pretty confident in that matchup, and he gave me something over that part of the plate and I got a barrel to it.”
That wasn't all Muncy did, either, as he got Los Angeles' first hit of the night with a fourth-inning single against the shift and stole second base following his seventh-inning single.
“I just think that the at-bat quality he's done all year has been unbelievable,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “To take that ball the other way for the base hit [in the fourth] and just stay in there … he just keeps having good at-bats.”
It seems Muncy is no longer a platoon player. During the regular season, he started 34 of the Dodgers’ 52 games against left-handed starters. That's a stark contrast from '18, when he started 19 of 65 games against lefties. And his platoon splits in 2019 were virtually nonexistent, with his .893 OPS vs. lefties a tick above his .887 OPS vs. righties.
“He's earned it,” Roberts said of Muncy starting against lefties. “Ideally, you get a guy that the handedness doesn't matter and doesn't affect production, and Max has shown that all year long -- the consistent approach and at-bat quality. And you have a guy in Corbin that has dominated left-handed hitters throughout his career. So for Max to stay in there and take good at-bats and not offer at balls out of the zone and get a pitch that he can handle … big, big.”
Consider it another chapter in Muncy’s fascinating development as a player. From being released by the A’s in 2017 to being a Dodgers non-roster invitee in '18 to serving as a regular starter for one of the top teams in baseball, Muncy continues to improve as a player. This season, he posted his second consecutive 35-homer campaign while accumulating 5.7 Wins Above Replacement.
Muncy went on the injured list on Aug. 29 after he broke his right wrist on a hit by pitch. Although he returned two weeks later, he batted .200/.289/.350 over the final 10 games of the regular season. But Muncy feels the time missed may have actually been beneficial for him.
“It sucked, you're missing the end of the season, trying to get ready for the playoffs, but you have to try and take bright sides out of it,” Muncy said after his second career postseason multi-hit game. “You're getting some rest that a lot of guys aren't getting. You're going to feel a little bit fresher going into the postseason. Yeah, you want those at-bats, you want to feel your timing is there, but thankfully, I feel like I had enough at-bats going toward the end of the season that I felt ready for it.”