ATLANTA -- Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said it’s “still unlikely” that first baseman Max Muncy will be available for the National League Championship Series against the Braves as he continues to recover from a left elbow injury that he sustained during the regular-season finale.
Though unlikely, the Dodgers aren’t quite ready to close the door on the All-Star first baseman possibly being on the team’s roster against the Braves. If Muncy, who has said he feels better, believes he can play later in the NLCS, Los Angeles will consider adding him to the roster despite knowing that he will miss the majority of the games.
But because Muncy hasn’t gone through any baseball activities since the injury and is still sporting a heavy brace on his left arm, the chances of him returning in this series appear to be very slim.
“It’s more of the training staff feeling like he’s able to swing a bat. I think we’re going through that exercise, I’m not sure,” Roberts said. “I think for me, just trying not to put pressure on Max, because he’ll do anything for the ballclub, even if it’s to his detriment. I’m just waiting for the green light from the medical staff.”
At the start of the postseason, Muncy said he had “no choice” but to remain optimistic about potentially returning this season. He didn’t require surgery for his injured elbow, but he did share that he dislocated it and popped it back in as he rolled in pain on the field after a collision with Jace Peterson at the first-base bag in the third inning on Oct. 3.
In the likely case that Muncy isn’t on the postseason roster, the Dodgers will continue to ask Cody Bellinger, Matt Beaty, Billy McKinney and Albert Pujols to handle the first-base responsibilities. Bellinger got most of the starts at first in the NL Division Series against the Giants, with Pujols starting against left-hander Alex Wood in Game 3. McKinney came into a pair of games as a defensive replacement.
With Braves left-hander Max Fried starting Game 1 of the NLCS on Saturday, the Dodgers could opt to start Pujols at first base. Since joining the club, Pujols has hit 10 homers off lefties. In his Game 3 start, Pujols went 2-for-2 against Wood. Bellinger, on the other hand, is a much better defender, but he struggled against lefties throughout the regular season.
If Los Angeles is able to get past the Braves and advance to the World Series, having Muncy on the field could become a little more feasible. But as of Friday, it looks like the Dodgers will be without their All-Star first baseman in the NLCS.
Figuring out if Muncy will be available isn’t the only decision the Dodgers have to make leading up to the NLCS.
With it being a best-of-seven format, Los Angeles is likely to carry 13 pitchers and 13 position players, as opposed to 14 position players and 12 pitchers, which the club carried on its NLDS roster against the Giants.
Roberts said the Dodgers wouldn’t necessarily need to add another pitcher who provides length because they have Tony Gonsolin. With Freddie Freeman being the most dangerous bat in the Braves’ lineup, adding left-hander Justin Bruihl could be a possibility for the Dodgers.
Dodgers prepare for 'Joctober'
Braves outfielder Joc Pederson was a big part of the Dodgers’ success in each of the previous six postseason runs, often coming up with a big hit in a clutch moment. His heroics at the plate made for the club to refer to the postseason as “Joctober.”
After hitting nine homers in 64 postseason games with the Dodgers, Pederson is having the same type of postseason impact with the Braves this season, though in a slightly reduced role. Pederson is 3-for-7 in the 2021 playoffs, including two pinch-hit homers. The Dodgers will be tasked with shutting him down.
“We FaceTimed him the other day to ask him what’s going on with this pearl necklace he’s wearing,” said third baseman Justin Turner, with a smile. “We played him, I think twice with the Cubs and then a third time when he was with the Braves already. It’ll be fun. It’ll be fun to battle and to compete against him.”