Max Muncy might have reached a turning point.
The Dodgers’ first baseman entered Game 4 of the World Series with the same number of hits in his last five postseason games – six – as he had in his first 10.
Although Muncy’s superlative patience has kept him hitting cleanup in Dave Roberts’ lineup, the erstwhile slugger hasn’t had much success putting the ball in play until recently. Muncy had just two home runs to show for his first 15 playoff games.
Call it a lingering side effect of the broken finger Muncy suffered when he was hit by a pitch during a simulated game during the Dodgers’ summer camp in July.
“I might still be dealing with some of that,” Muncy said prior to Game 4. “The biggest thing for me on that was mentally, between last year breaking my wrist and then this year breaking a finger, anything that was coming toward the inner half of the plate, I was kind of freezing on. I was kind of jumping out of the way.”
According to Statcast, which divides pitches into one of 13 location zones, Muncy had only seven regular-season hits in the innermost zones compared to 32 hits in the middle and outermost zones.
Muncy has been a more difficult out lately, lifting his on-base percentage from .331 to .448 in October. Teammates have effusively praised Muncy’s plate discipline all month. He’s drawn 18 walks in his first 15 postseason games.
“I used to do a lot of damage on inner half pitches,” he said. “I don’t necessarily know if I’ve done a lot of that this year. I’ve fouled a lot of them off. A lot of that isn’t necessarily a bad habit with the swing, it’s just mentally not being ready to attack because, in the back of your mind, it’s still ‘here’s what happened last year, here’s what happened this year.’ It’s difficult to get over that sometimes.
“You have to eventually get over it. That’s not going to happen overnight. You have to go out and keep performing to the best of your ability and keep doing what you can.”
DEEP IN THE HEART
For Muncy and Kershaw, who have friends and family and homes near Globe Life Field, the bubble environment has been a mixed blessing.
Muncy said that as soon as the World Series is over he and his wife Kellie will pick up their pets – a French Bulldog named Jax and a cat named Mia – whom they haven’t seen since they entered the Arlington “bubble.”
“It’s been extremely difficult,” he said. “You’re so close yet you’re so far away. This has been home for me the last 19, 20 years almost. This is home to me and my wife. … Not being able to go see that, see our friends, see our family, not even allowed to have our pets, it’s just been extremely difficult.”
Players have been allowed to quarantine with their wives and children in the team hotel. Contact with familiar outsiders, human or furry, is limited to a great distance. Kershaw said he hasn’t so much as waved to friends or family from the field.
“Overall I’m actually kind of glad,” said Kershaw, who will start Game 5 on Sunday. “This bubble could have been anywhere. For us to get to be in Dallas, for some of my friends and family to come to the games, in this type of environment traveling might have been difficult. The fact that anybody gets to come and watch a World Series game that I get to be a part of is, I think, pretty special all things considered.
“We’ve gotten some care packages dropped off at the hotel, things like that. Hey, it’s four or five more days. We’ll be able to see them as much as we want after that.”
THE BONDS THAT TIE
During Game 3 on Wednesday, MLB observed its annual “Stand Up To Cancer” tradition by distributing placards to everyone at Globe Life Field. A space in the middle of each placard is left blank for its bearer to write the name of someone affected by cancer.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts filled in the name of Jim Bonds, the head football coach at La Cañada St. Francis. Bonds, a former quarterback at Roberts’ alma mater UCLA, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma during the spring of 2018.
After treatment and a hopeful diagnosis, Bonds returned to coach the 2018 and 2019 football seasons. He was speaking with his team during Zoom meetings in March after the novel coronavirus pandemic put high school sports activities in California on hiatus.
Over the summer, Bonds’ cancer returned. The fight has been a difficult one. St. Francis High is holding a prayer at the school on Wednesday. His family has posted updates on their social media accounts, asking for prayers with the hashtag #bondsstrong.
Staff writer Fred Robledo contributed to this story.