Despite struggles, Dodgers 'gonna ride with' Muncy

July 31st, 2022

DENVER -- Max Muncy has only one place to go when he’s struggling. And so far in 2022, it’s been a struggle at the plate unlike any he has endured since joining the Dodgers and resuscitating his career in 2018.

“I’m trusting in the player that I am,” Muncy said after the Dodgers’ 5-3 loss to the Rockies at Coors Field on Saturday night. “That eventually, things will get turned around.”

When he’s grappling with adversity, Muncy looks to the player who smashed 70 home runs with a .927 OPS from 2018-19, and after a down year in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, launched 36 more homers in ’21, his second All-Star season. He looks to the player who has belted nine postseason home runs for the Dodgers, including perhaps his most famous, an 18th-inning walk-off shot to end Game 3 of the 2018 World Series against the Red Sox.

He also looks to the player who was released by the A’s at the end of Spring Training in 2017, when he had five Major League home runs to his name.

“This is a tough game,” Muncy said. “Even when you’re at your best, this is a tough game.”

Muncy entered Saturday’s game hitting .160/.308/.301 over 331 plate appearances this season. Coming off a torn UCL in his left elbow that he suffered in a collision at first base on the final day of the 2021 regular season, he has never used the elbow as an excuse, even when inflammation in the same elbow forced him to the injured list earlier this year.

Whether the elbow is affecting his swing or not, the Dodgers have, as they do every year, “World Series title or bust” as the unofficial team motto. Waiting for Muncy to return to form gets tougher by the day for manager Dave Roberts. But Roberts isn’t ready to make that call yet.

“The results haven’t been there consistently, I’m aware of that,” Roberts said. “But I do think that stuff under the hood has shown better for me. … I’m going to continue to give him runway. I certainly still expect quality at-bats, but right now, I’m gonna ride with Max. … It’s gonna be that way until it’s not.”

The Dodgers, despite Muncy and others -- like Cody Bellinger -- struggling, as well as Chris Taylor and several key relievers being on the injured list, have won exactly two of every three games they’ve played this season through their first 100 games, at 67-33 after Saturday’s loss to Colorado. Still, as August arrives and October inches closer, Roberts admitted the runway isn’t endless.

Muncy has shown signs, albeit few and sporadic, that he’s finding something of his old self at the plate. In the ninth inning Saturday, he turned on a 98 mph fastball from Rockies closer Daniel Bard, barreling a double off the wall in right-center field to get the tying run to the plate. It was his third hit in the series, with one in each game.

The at-bat itself was a manifestation of what Roberts said he had been noticing “under the hood” with Muncy’s approach at the plate. The pitch Muncy hit came on a 3-1 count.

“I think that there are a lot of pitches out of the zone that I’ve seen him offer at this year that, recently, I’ve seen him take and get into good counts,” Roberts said. “But just not finishing the at-bat.”

Muncy finished the at-bat against Bard. Now he’s going to need to finish his at-bats like the old Muncy would on a more frequent basis. Despite his difficulties, though, he hasn’t lost sight of what fuels him every day -- it’s not going 3-for-5 with a pair of homers, as nice as that is when it happens.

“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t [get harder as the season goes on without significant improvement],” Muncy said. “But [Roberts sticking with me] is a result of the player that I am -- not necessarily what I’ve done in the past, but just that I show up every day with a clear head and try to help this team win. And I show up every day willing to work, willing to listen. If I was stubborn about that stuff, I don’t think I would have that support.”

Muncy’s track record certainly speaks for itself. The track record isn’t what will or won’t get him out of his slump. But for Roberts, it still holds meaning.

“When he’s in the lineup,” Roberts said, “that opposing pitcher knows that Max Muncy’s in the batter’s box.”