In the sixth inning, with Freddie Freeman on second base and Max Muncy on deck, the umpire Ed Hickox told Trea Turner to take his base. In a 1-2 count, with two outs, La Russa had opted to intentionally walk Turner to get to Muncy. Everyone was shocked. Dave Roberts, the Dodgers manager, said that he’d never seen a hitter intentionally walked in that situation before. A fan was heard to yell on a Twitter video, “He’s got two strikes, Tony!”
But Muncy understood. After nearly two weeks on the injured list with left elbow inflammation, he was stepping to the plate dragging a lackluster line of .150/.327/.263 on his bubblegum card. La Russa’s decision said one thing: We can get this guy out.
The strategy seemed clear. It was Turner’s .841 OPS against lefties vs. Muncy’s .558 OPS.
And La Russa’s gambit almost worked.
Bennett Sousa pitched his way into a 2-2 count against Muncy, one strike away from getting out of the inning. But when he threw a slider that was middle-away, Muncy put a charge into the ball, sending it 362 feet to the opposite field for a three-run homer.
He finished the day going 2-for-5 with a double, 2 R and 5 RBI to go along with that long ball.
Muncy can get streaky for a month at a time, as was evidenced last year. In 2021, here’s his batting average for every month of the season: April (.222); May (.330); June (.205); July (.315); August (.189); September (.202). As a fantasy manager, it can be tough to hang in there, but these numbers in the season-long aggregate still led to a .249/.368/.527 line with 36 home runs. Excluding the COVID-shortened season, he’s hit a minimum of 35 home runs from 2018-2021.
Indeed, when Muncy is on his game, he hits the ball as well as anyone. And the White Sox may have done him (and the Dodgers) a huge favor by reminding him of that.
Let’s see how the other hitters did Thursday
Byron Buxton (MIN): 2-4, 2 HR, 2 R, 4 RBI, BB.
Apparently, not even Buxton’s superhero powers could help the Twins beat the Yankees, as they would go on to lose 7-10. But what a show they put on, launching three consecutive home runs against the top pitcher in baseball, Gerrit Cole. Unlike his teammates, Buxton didn’t stop there. After the first inning, he hit a second home run in the very next inning. He now has four home runs since the beginning of June and 15 total on the season, which is tied for fifth in all of baseball. Minnesota has been careful with their star player, resting him every fourth day. It also seems like their concern extends to his base-stealing, as he only has one on the season. Still, any way that a team can manage Buxton and keep him healthy and in the lineup is probably worth it. Even with the extra rest, he has 181 plate appearances, and while the AVG is .231, the xBA is .260, and he’s batting .317 in the last two weeks.
Joey Gallo (NYY): 2-5, 2 HR, 2 R, 3 RBI.
When Gallo was traded to New York in 2021, it would have been tough to guess that he’d be batting at the bottom of the order the following year. But here we are. He’s always had a low batting average, but his K% is 4% higher than last year (38.6%) and his BB% is 6% lower (12.1%). This is accompanied by an ISO of .179. It was .259 in 2021. Gallo had six home runs on the season before yesterday’s contest. He hit his first home run off Dylan Bundy in the second inning, and then he had an encore in the fifth inning on a changeup that floated at the top of the zone. There is nothing wrong with his Barrel% or Hard Hit rate compared to previous seasons, but there is some concern that his value is significantly diminished by ranking 12th in punchouts in the entire league (plus the number of at-bats at the bottom of the order).
Jesús Sánchez (MIA): 2-4, 2B, HR, 2 R, 3 RBI.
Sanchez was experiencing back tightness several days ago, but it didn’t seem to affect him yesterday. Stephen Strasburg was shaking off some rust on this outing, and Sanchez took him deep in the first inning before Strasburg could get settled. Sanchez has been striking out a lot with 54 strikeouts on the year (compared to 10 walks). He may simply need more time. For most of his minor league career, his K% hovered around 19%, and if we can see him slowly bring his power in line with that greater patience, we’ll see more games like this one.
Christian Bethancourt (OAK): 3-4, 2B, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI.
Bethancourt, the former catcher, was batting fifth as the DH in the Oakland lineup yesterday, and he hit a home run in his first at-bat against Konner Pilkington. A career .226 hitter, this is Bethancourt’s sixth big league organization, but he also played for the NC Dinos in the KBO League. Other than occasionally batting in a good spot in the lineup (he is not an everyday player), he shouldn’t be on fantasy managers’ radars, even if he is on Oakland’s real-life radar.
Jake Burger (CWS): 2-3, HR, 3 R, RBI, BB.
Burger hit a home run last night and finished by going 2-3 with a walk before being taken out of the game with a sore leg. It was his second home run in as many days, giving him seven on the year with a .500 SLG. The 26 year-old third baseman has been batting 5th or 6th in the lineup for the White Sox. He ranks in the 93rd percentile in Barrel%, and he’s in the 90th percentile or higher in Average Exit Velocity and xSLG. The home run yesterday came off Phil Bickford’s cement-mixer slider in the fifth inning.
Gavin Lux (LAD): 4-4, 2B, 2 R, RBI, BB.
Lux is not hitting for any power on the season, which is evidenced by his line of .284/.368/.358. Still, it’s hard to ignore the solid average and the work of perfection in yesterday’s 4-for-4 game. In the last two weeks he’s batting .389, and he’s proven to be a downright pest at the bottom of the order for opposing pitchers. Amazingly, even though he bats from the bottom of the order, he is ranked 30th in Runs (32). Incidentally, he also ranks 22nd in OBP (.373). If you’re looking to bolster these categories, treat him like a solid leadoff man in the LA lineup.
Carlos Correa (MIN): 2-4, HR, R, RBI, BB.
Correa was activated from the COVID-IL on Wednesday, but he showed no lingering symptoms yesterday, as he joined the home run parade off Gerrit Cole in the first inning. Some fantasy managers may be frustrated with the home run output, but Correa has been a solid force in the Twins lineup, batting .286/.356/.429. His Hard Hit % in 2021 was 42.5%, but so far this year it’s 55.1%. He’s barreling the ball a bit more too. If I were in the trade market for a shortstop, this might be my guy if for some uncanny reason the manager felt the home runs weren’t going to match his previous results.
Luis Arraez (MIN): 1-4, HR, 2 R, RBI, BB.
Arraez is known more for his profound on-base prowess than his power, as this was only his second home run of the year. But in nearly 200 plate appearances, it’s worth pointing out that he’s batting .359/.447/.424. That is not a typo. He’s a menace to opposing pitchers from the leadoff position for Minnesota. I think it’s interesting that he could go home last night and tell everyone, “I only like to hit home runs against the best pitcher in baseball,” which is exactly what he did yesterday against Gerrit Cole.
Shohei Ohtani (LAA): 2-4, HR, R, 2 RBI.
Ohtani did Ohtani-like things Thursday, pitching seven innings (and striking out six hitters), while also catapulting a go-ahead home run in the fifth inning from the leadoff spot. The home run came against Nick Pivetta, and the Angels would go on to win this game 5-2. The 27-year-old is not hitting at the same blistering pace as last year, with his OBP and SLG numbers significantly lower. But I think the pace will surely pick up, as his xSLG according to Fangraphs is .576, which is much higher than his .457. Most of his other power numbers are in line with his 2021 output, even though they are slightly (ever-so-slightly) lower. This is an elite player through and through.
Ji-Man Choi (TB): 1-3, HR, R, 2 RBI.
Choi is probably one of the more underrated players in baseball. Everyone in the Tampa Bay lineup struggled to do anything against Miles Mikolas pitching yesterday for the Cardinals. In eight innings, he held the team to two runs, and those runs came of Ji-Man Choi. It was a 1-0 count, a sinker, in the 4th inning, and it extended his hitting streak to nine games. He’s currently batting .276/.367/.484. This is what fantasy profit potential looks like if you need a stop-gap.
Josh Bell (WSH): 2-3, BB.
I just had to mention Josh Bell this morning because there seems to be a theme to today’s reporting. Names like Lux, Arraez, and Choi don’t come with a ton of flash, but they are solid baseball players. Looking at their numbers, it’s not even arguable. Bell is kind of in that category of underappreciated players. He’s in my main league this year, and I often have him languishing on my bench. Why? Every time I look down there, he’s got hits galore. He’s not hitting a lot of home runs. That’s part of this theme. But he’s batting .305/.378/.423. He ranks 8th in hits (65), which is tied with Mookie Betts. His underlying power numbers are lower than his season-long numbers, and we should recall that it was a very slow start for him last year. He’s managing to hit like crazy, but maybe the power will follow as we get into the dog days of summer.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)