Vargas puts himself in October outlook

Rookie's 3-RBI game continues trend that might land him on postseason roster

September 30th, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- The last week of regular-season games won’t mean anything for the Dodgers in the standings. They already won the NL West, set a new franchise record in wins and clinched home-field advantage through the NL playoffs.

What will matter, however, is determining which players are playing the best heading into the postseason. It’s a question the Dodgers will have to answer throughout the roster, but particularly with their outfield rotation.

Due to a slow start in the Majors, is one option that often goes under-the-radar. But in the Dodgers’ 5-2 win over the Padres on Thursday night at Petco Park, the 22-year-old Cuban showed why he should be in the conversation for a spot on the postseason roster, driving in three of the five Los Angeles runs, including two on a go-ahead single in the sixth inning.

“His name is certainly in the mix to make the roster,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “All Miguel can do is respond when given opportunities.”

, , and  are the four more likely options in the outfield for the Dodgers. In a perfect world, the Dodgers would lean on Taylor and Thompson to handle left-handed pitching, while Bellinger and Gallo take on right-handers. 

But in the real world, Gallo, Bellinger and Taylor have struggled all season long and Thompson hasn’t been as productive as of late. Thompson has been a pleasant surprise since being acquired from the Tigers in June. He has 12 homers this season and has played solid defense in the outfield. There are a few problems, however.

Thompson was brought in to hit left-handed pitching, something he did in Triple-A earlier this season. But since joining the Dodgers, Thompson has struggled against southpaws, posting a .599 OPS. Thompson’s overall production has also taken a hit in September as his OPS has dropped 52 points since the start of the month. Still, he projects to get a fair share of the looks in October.

Gallo, Taylor and Bellinger have been struggling for a much longer period of time. Gallo has had moments since being acquired from the Yankees in August, but his strikeout numbers are starting to outweigh his occasional homer. He struck out four times on Wednesday, twice with the bases loaded. Not putting the ball in play at a consistent clip usually becomes a problem in the postseason. 

Taylor and Bellinger have also failed to put things together offensively. Taylor, who was an All-Star in 2021, has punched out 160 times in 398 at-bats. He is 4-for-37 with one homer and 13 strikeouts over his last 10 games. Bellinger, on the other hand, is 6-for-26 over his last 10 games. His Gold Glove-caliber defense in center field might also be too much for the Dodgers to overlook. 

“There’s not one day he’s carried his offense to the defense. And to play a premium position and play it so well, that’s the focus for me,” Roberts said, when asked about Bellinger. “I still think he’s an asset, having him in the lineup versus right and versus left.”

Despite their struggles, the Dodgers are going to continue giving those four players most of the opportunities over the next six games. The Dodgers are still hoping at least one of the group turns things around. The 156-game sample size, however, would suggest otherwise. 

Those inconsistencies at the plate could open the door for Vargas, whose three RBIs were a career high. He was in the lineup for the first time since Sept. 24 and only because Thompson was a late scratch due to a personal matter. 

Even with his early struggles, Vargas is now 4-for-10 with runners in scoring position. He also delivered a sacrifice fly in the second to get the Dodgers on the board. It’s the type of situational hitting that has been missing from the bottom of the order over the last few weeks. 

“He accounted for most of our offense tonight,” Roberts said. “He was ready when called upon.”

Multiple things will have to happen in order for Vargas to make the postseason roster. The matchup in the NLDS will play a big role in what the Dodgers do. But with a strong week, Vargas could start making things a little more interesting. 

“I want to be there and I want to win the ring, of course,” Vargas said. “But that’s not my job. My job is to stay ready.”