Dodgers: Living and dying by the long ball
By Hector Ponce
The Dodgers have broken the record for home runs in a month. Big flies have become a common sight thus far in the season. But will this power surge continue, and if so is it good for the Dodgers to live and die by the home run?
Going into the series finale against the cross-town rival Angels, the Dodgers had scored 49 percent of their runs by the long ball. Last season the league average was around 40 percent, and that was the highest it has been since 1995. With that increase, we saw an increase in strikeouts as well. More and more players are taking the approach of either hitting the ball over the fence or striking out.
Should this approach be worrisome some for Dodger fans? Well, the answer is yes, but the Dodgers aren’t taking that approach in the slightest. For the time being, they just happen to be hitting the ball over the fence. They aren’t necessarily attempting to go yard every at-bat. They just put themselves in hitters’ counts and attack when they are ahead in the count.
They aren’t up there hacking wildly trying to bomb anything they see like many teams who rely on the home run. In fact, the Dodgers lead the MLB in walks which proves my point. They are getting deep into counts and being picky with the pitches that they swing at.
In baseball there are two counts in which many hitters will tell you, I am swinging as hard as I possibly can. Those counts are 2-0 and 3-1. The Dodgers lead the Majors in home runs with a 2-0 count and are top 10 during a 3-1 count.
This proves that they are just executing when they get a pitch to hit. But there is something to consider when seeing an offense rely so heavily on the home run, much like the Dodgers are doing this season. We have seen this series what happens if they aren’t putting the ball over the fence. The offense looks anemic when they are not parking baseballs in the seats.
The problem is we become so used to scoring runs thanks to home runs that we forget about the little things that need to be done to win close ball games. More importantly to win games in October. Home runs may play now, but when it comes to the playoffs, they tend to be close games decided by teams who manufacture runs rather that out powering the opposing team.
Aside from the balls just not traveling as much because of cooler weather and more moisture in the air, the playoffs mean you will definitely be seeing the best of the best pitching. So manufacturing runs by playing small ball is more important in the future months than it is at the moment.
One thing we have not seen much of is Dave Roberts playing the small ball that will be needed to win games in the postseason. So it is fine for the time being, but they will eventually need to start bunting, stealing bases and moving runners over by any means necessary.
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In fact, the last three World Series champions were not even in the top 10 in home runs (Cubs 13, Royals 24, and Giants 17). These three teams, all with some of the most revered managers in the MLB, did all the small things offensively to win the games they needed to win in the playoffs.
So with all the stats pointing towards the game shifting into a more power-oriented offense, it is still the teams who play small ball that have been coming up big.
Another thing that should be mentioned is where the power is coming from. The Dodgers have a well-rounded lineup, but the power is provided by a few of the Dodgers. Not every single player on the team is providing the power the three major contributors (Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, and Yasiel Puig) thus far have been. Cody Bellinger looks like a pure power hitter and puts together excellent at-bats, but ultimately he is going to hit a lot of home runs and strikeout a good amount.
Corey Seager is just an amazing all around hitter. Much like Chase Utley in his prime, Seager is a gap to gap guy with pop who will put one over the fence a fair amount of times but is not actually considered a power hitter; more so a great overall hitter. Yasiel Puig is currently stationed at the eighth spot in the lineup but is still the second leading home run hitter on the team showing just how deep this lineup is.
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For the time being, it is entirely okay to live and die by the home run. This means the games will be super fun and exciting or dry with no runs and bad offense. But when it comes to playoff time the Dodgers need to figure a way to produce without needing to put the ball over the fence. This will be the recipe to success, the home runs will come, but they will definitely need to play small ball to produce more runs in close games come this postseason.