"When I take a step back and see what we've accomplished as a group as far as the OPS and slugging, it's obviously unprecedented," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "We're in some unchartered territory."
Joc Pederson and Muncy opened the first with an encore of their performance Monday night, belting back-to-back homers off Pirates starter Ivan Nova, marking the second straight game in which the duo ripped consecutive solo shots. For Nova, it was just the beginning of what was a rough outing for the right-hander; the Dodgers teed up five home runs off him, the most a Pirates pitcher has ever given up in a single game.
Pederson and Muncy's leadoff knocks marked the seventh time this season the Dodgers have gone back-to-back. But Muncy wasn't finished -- he homered again during his second at-bat in the third inning, working a 2-0 count before launching his team-leading 20th blast of the season. It was Muncy's second career multi-homer game; he hit two against the Rockies on June 3.
Muncy entered Tuesday leading the National League in OPS (1.027) among hitters with a minimum 200 plate appearances. Before the game, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle even compared Muncy's recent run to Babe Ruth. After the game, Clayton Kershaw, considered by many to be the best pitcher of his generation, called Muncy the best hitter in baseball right now.
"We knew Max was a good hitter," Kershaw said, "but I don't think anybody in the world would expect this."
Even Muncy said he's been surprised by his own production this season.
"I never thought I could hit this many home runs in this short amount of time," he said.
"He understands his swing," Roberts added. "He's putting up All-Star numbers. That's just the way it is and that's the truth. He's taking advantage of an opportunity. It's good to see."
Shortstop Chris Taylor -- who finished a single short of the cycle -- added to the onslaught with a two-run shot in the fourth. Catcher Yasmani Grandal hammered a leadoff blast in the sixth, and Pittsburgh finally pulled Nova in favor of Dovydas Neverauskas after the starter gave up a double to Taylor the next at-bat. But on Neverauskas' first pitch, Enrique Hernandez launched his 15th homer of the year, a two-run jack, to extend the Dodgers' lead to 8-2.
The offensive fireworks were perhaps enough to distract from the fact that Kershaw, a three-time Cy Young Award winner, took the mound Tuesday for just the third time since being activated from the disabled list after dealing with a back strain.
Kershaw (2-4) pitched a quality start -- his first since May 1 against the D-backs -- but his outing wasn't his sharpest, as he generated a season-low two strikeouts (he struck out Nova, Pittsburgh's starter, twice). Roberts had ballparked the length of Kershaw's outing at six innings and 90 pitches; Kershaw threw 74 pitches (56 strikes) through six, allowing two runs on four hits. He did not yield a walk.
Kershaw said he felt good about the length of his outing, adding he thought he made a few mistakes that allowed the Pirates to hang around. Still, he seemed confident in making the necessary adjustments moving forward.
"Now we're getting closer," he said. "Third start in. We'll be pretty good to go."
Despite Kershaw not quite at his best, he was buoyed and then some by the Dodgers' offense, which has built on the dominant form it achieved in June -- when it smacked a franchise-record 55 homers -- and carried it into July. With Muncy leading the way, Los Angeles is already up to 11 dingers this month.
"It puts a smile on my face," Muncy said. "I know it puts a smile on everyone else's face and it's helping us win games."
With the win, the Dodgers improved to 46-39 overall, still 1 1/2 games behind the D-backs for first place in the NL West.
SOUND SMART Six home runs are the most the Dodgers have hit in a single home game since they hit six on Sept. 9, 2013, against the D-backs.
HE SAID IT "I was walking to breakfast the other day and I had a guy stop me and ask for a picture and he was calling me Mad Max. That's the first time that's happened." -- Muncy, on if he's been acknowledged by fans in Los Angeles
"I don't think I'm in that same category."-- Muncy, when a reporter mentioned him and NBA star LeBron James in the same breath
"He's gotta be at least in the running for an All-Star spot, if not already got one."-- Kershaw, on Muncy
UP NEXT Left-hander Rich Hill (1-3, 4.68 ERA) will get the nod for the Dodgers' series finale Wednesday against the Pirates. Last season, Hill pitched nine no-hit innings at Pittsburgh, but incurred a losing decision when he gave up a solo shot to Josh Harrison in the bottom of the 10th. The Pirates will counter with Clay Holmes. First pitch is scheduled for 5:10 p.m. PT at Dodger Stadium.
Kaelen Jones is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles.