The Los Angeles Dodgers have seemingly shifted into the next gear in the month of August, and at the right time to do so. So far they are 12-3 this month, and have gained two games on the first place San Francisco Giants in the NL West.
The Giants aren’t making it too easy, going 13-5 in that same span. The Dodgers need to win almost every game if they want to make gains in the divisional race. However, two games in two weeks is a good start. If they can keep that pace, with six weeks left to go in the season, they should be able to end the year atop the NL West.
Among their many talented stars, the Dodgers have two standouts this season, on both sides of the plate. Two players that are now being talked about as contenders for prestigious regular season awards.
Manager Dave Roberts has been quoted as saying ‘As Mookie Betts goes, so we go”. Unfortunately, Mookie has spent much time this season dealing with pain in his hip, now diagnosed to be a bone spur. The guy who usually bats behind Betts in the lineup though has picked it up a notch and has now worked his way into NL MVP talk.
Max Muncy has gone from laying on his couch wondering if he’d ever play professional baseball again to being a legitimate MVP candidate. On a team full of super stars, Muncy is rising to the top.
The versatile infielder is second in the National League on home runs with 28; he has hit five in the last four games alone. He is third in on base percentage, and first in both slugging and OPS. He’s third in walks.
Defensively, Muncy ranks first among first base men in the majors in DRS, or defensive runs saved. At second, he’s tied for eighth. Overall between both bases he is tied for fourth. According to Fangraphs WAR metrics, he is tied for the NL lead with a 4.9 fWAR, 0.4 behind Vladimir Guerrero Jr who has the best in the majors. He is the only player in the NL with a .400 OBP and 25 homers.
The crowd at Dodgers Stadium has gotten into believing Muncy is an MVP candidate, chanting “MVP!” before his third at bat on Wednesday evening.
“That’s probably one of the cooler moments I’ve ever had in my career,” Muncy said after the game. “It was kind of wild. I had to hold back a smile while 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 the World Series. If any awards come from that, that’s awesome. But that’s really all I care about.”
Currently, Fernando Tatis Jr is the odds on favorite to win the NL MVP, with -300 odds according to FanDuel. Muncy is second in odds, at +750. But there is plenty of time for Muncy to continue his campaign.
Pitching has been what has held the Dodgers in the spot that they’re in all season. While the offense and defense have been inconsistent, the Dodgers pitching staff has managed to mostly take every injury in stride, and keep their team in the game, all while having the best team ERA in the majors. Their 3.06 ERA is 0.25 ahead of the next best team, the Milwaukee Brewers.
Leading the way has been Walker Buehler. The intense right hander has pitched at least six innings in every one of his 24 outings so far this season, aside from one outing in July where he went five innings. On May 25th, his ERA was 3.45. He has steadily lowered it to a 2.09, where he is now best in the majors. His record is 12-2, with a 0.94 WHIP.
Zack Wheeler of the Philadelphia Phillies is having a career year, and while his 10-7 record isn’t all that great, he has a 2.56 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 10.4 K/9. He is the current odds favorite at +185. However, Buehler has been especially locked in lately, and also could have a huge end to the season to push him over the voting edge to be the Cy Young winner.
Buehler like Muncy isn’t thinking about regular season awards right now. When asked if him being in the Cy Young conversation right now matters to him, he said “It doesn’t. We gotta make the playoffs, man”.
To that end, the Dodgers will continue their push towards the top of the NL West on Thursday, starting a four game set against the New York Mets. They swept the Mets when they faced them in New York last weekend, and look to continue their dominance over them. After a bullpen game on Thursday, they will send Buehler, Max Scherzer and David Price to face them, in that order.