LOS ANGELES -- Just four years ago, the Dodgers signed Max Muncy to a Minor League contract. Muncy had just been designated for assignment by the A’s, and the move flew under the radar.
Since then, Muncy has become one of best first basemen in the National League, posting multiple 35-homer seasons and helping the Dodgers win a World Series in 2020. This season, Muncy has taken it to another level and has played his way into the NL MVP conversation.
Muncy continued to make his case on Wednesday, smacking two homers in the Dodgers’ 9-0 win over the Pirates at Dodger Stadium. It was Muncy’s third multi-homer game of the season and his second in his last four games.
“He’s just been very consistent,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “Now there’s that MVP talk, and it’s well-deserved, but I know all Max cares about is helping us win a ballgame each night and I think all the results are just a byproduct of that mindset.”
There’s no such thing as an automatic win in baseball. But over the last few years, playing the Pirates has been nearly that for the Dodgers. The Dodgers have won 16 consecutive games against the Pirates, tying their most against any team since the franchise moved to Los Angeles in 1958.
It didn’t take long for the Dodgers to extend that streak as they wasted no time to jump on Pirates right-hander J.T. Brubaker. AJ Pollock hit leadoff for the first time this season and got the team going with a single. Four pitches later, Muncy gave the Dodgers a 2-0 lead with his 27th homer. It traveled 375 feet and had an exit velocity of 99.4 mph, per Statcast.
In the second inning, Pollock tacked on another run with a homer to straightaway center field.
Then in the fourth, Muncy delivered the knockout punch. After Brubaker walked pitcher Mitch White with two outs to keep the inning alive, Pollock singled and Muncy made the Pirates pay, smacking a wall-scraping three-run shot off Brubaker to give the Dodgers a 7-0 lead. The homer had an expected batting average of .130, but all that matters is the final result.
Corey Seager added a two-run homer in the sixth, his second since returning from the injured list on July 30.
With the two homers on Wednesday, Muncy now has 28 this season, second in the National League behind Fernando Tatis Jr., who has 34 despite missing time with a left shoulder injury. Muncy also has a .982 OPS, which would be a career high for him, and he came into the game tied with Bryce Harper for the sixth-best offensive bWAR at 4.3.
Since the start of the 2018 season, Muncy is third in the Majors with 110 homers behind Eugenio Suárez (121) and Nolan Arenado (110).
But aside from being the best hitter in one of the best lineups in baseball, Muncy has also given the Dodgers quality defense at multiple positions. He has been solid at first base and has stepped in nicely at second base. He has even shown enough versatility, sliding over to third base, when needed.
When Muncy stepped into the box for his third at-bat, Dodger Stadium showered him with “M-V-P” chants. He has a long way to go, but Muncy has certainly earned his way into the conversation.
“That’s probably one of the cooler moments I’ve had in my career," Muncy said. "I had to hold back a smile when I was in the batter’s box, but the most important thing to me is winning, getting this team back to the playoffs and helping us win another World Series. If any awards come from that, that’s awesome. But whatever I can to help the team win, that’s what I’m going to do.”
White’s stellar night
With the Dodgers scheduled to have their third bullpen game of the week on Thursday against the Mets, the club needed a strong outing from White on Wednesday. They got it, and more.
White delivered the best outing of his career, striking out six and allowing two hits over 7 1/3 dominant innings out of the bullpen. The right-hander became the first Dodgers pitcher to go 7 1/3 scoreless frames in relief since Ed Roebuck did it in 1960.
“That’s a huge thing for me is trying to be an innings-eater,” White said. “And do whatever I can to save [the bullpen].”
White said his recent success is credited to an adjustment with his windup and the work he and Triple-A pitching coach Jamey Wright put in to improve his four-seam fastball. It was all on display against a Pirates lineup that looked completely overmatched.
The Dodgers are without multiple starters due to injuries, and there’s no help on the way until at least the first week of September. Los Angeles is going to need to find length out of some pitchers, with White being at the top of the list.
“He was fantastic,” Roberts said. “This is something he’ll remember for a long time.”