Pujols in, Belli out: LA shuffles lineup for G3

October 11th, 2021

LOS ANGELES -- After being held scoreless in Game 1 against the Giants, the Dodgers made the decision to insert utility man  into the starting lineup in Game 2, sending  back to the bench.

The move paid dividends right away, as the Dodgers broke out in Game 2, scoring nine runs on 11 hits. But as the series shifts to Dodger Stadium for Game 3 tonight, Los Angeles will be making some other lineup changes with left-hander Alex Wood on the mound for the Giants.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts announced Sunday that Albert Pujols will start at first base in Game 3, while AJ Pollock and Taylor will remain in left and center field, respectively. That will send Cody Bellinger, who hit a two-run double in Game 2, back to the bench.

Let’s break down the Dodgers’ lineup decisions for Game 3.

Pujols’ dominance against lefties
When Roberts and president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman met with Pujols back in May, the Dodgers made it very clear that his primary role would be getting occasional starts against left-handed pitchers. It was an area of concern for the Dodgers, and one that Pujols has excelled at throughout his Hall of Fame career.

While the Dodgers felt good about the signing, bringing in Pujols has worked out even better than the team could’ve expected.

Not only has Pujols given Los Angeles another veteran presence in a loaded clubhouse, he has also proven that he does, indeed, have plenty of “gas left in the tank," as he alluded to in his introductory press conference.

After joining the Dodgers, Pujols hit .303 with 10 homers and 28 RBIs in 109 at-bats against lefties in the regular season. In his only at-bat this postseason, Pujols lined out to center, though that ball had a 107 mph exit velocity off Cardinals left-hander T.J. McFarland. Pujols also has some experience against Wood, going 3-for-12 with a homer and a walk.

It’ll be Pujols’ first start in the postseason since Game 3 of the 2014 ALDS against the Royals. At 41 years and 268 days old, he will also be making Dodgers postseason history, becoming the oldest player to start a game.

“He’s one of the greatest hitters that ever lived,” said Giants manager Gabe Kapler.

With Taylor and Pollock, the Dodgers will start seven right-handed hitters. Why?
Wood spent five seasons with the Dodgers, so there’s plenty of familiarity between the two sides. Because of that, the Dodgers feel they have a better opportunity with a right-handed-heavy lineup against Wood, despite the left-hander having even splits this season. Right-handers posted a .682 OPS against Wood. Lefties wrapped up with a .674 OPS.

Starting Bellinger was an option for the Dodgers, but the former NL MVP has struggled against southpaws this season, finishing the regular season with a .116 average and only one homer. Pollock and Taylor, on the other hand, have been two of the Dodgers’ best hitters against lefties. Taylor had an .897 OPS against lefties this season. Pollock posted an .872 OPS against lefties and he is 10-for-25 with two homers against Wood in his career.

“They will have a great plan. They know me really well,” Wood said. "They do a great job of preparing for anyone and everyone, especially this time of year. So I just have to kind of go out and execute -- play the chess match, take what the game gives you, feel it out as you go and try to make pitches and try and execute.”

Where does Bellinger fit in?
While Bellinger won’t be in the starting lineup, Roberts still expects the outfielder to make an impact on Monday. Bellinger is still the team’s best defensive option in center field and at first base, so it’s fair to expect him to come in as a defensive replacement.

Bellinger would also be available to pinch-hit for either Taylor or Pujols if the Giants counter with a right-handed pitcher later in the game. Bellinger has struggled this season, but he was a bit better against righties, posting a .601 OPS. Bellinger is also 0-for-2 in his career against Wood.

“It’s more of the mindset of giving us the best chance to get a lead, beat the starter and we can pivot out of some things,” Roberts said. “I think that’s just kind of the mindset.”