Dodgers takeaways: Despite June swoon, Dave Roberts isn't mixing up lineup ... yet

·8 min read
Dodgers' Max Muncy (13) watches the flight of a solo home run ball hit off Colorado pitcher Kyle Freehand on June 28.
Dodgers' Max Muncy watches the flight of his solo home Tuesday against the Colorado Rockies in Denver. Muncy's numbers have slightly improved since his return from the injured list earlier this month, but they still remain well off his career norms. (Jack Dempsey / Associated Press)

For the first two months of the season, the Dodgers had one of baseball’s best offenses, ranking in the top six in scoring, batting average, on-base-plus-slugging percentage, home runs and walk-to-strikeout ratio.

In June, their lineup regressed into becoming one of the league’s most average, failing to crack the top 10 in any of those categories in what could best be described as an underwhelming month.

The dropoff can be blamed on many factors. Untimely injuries (Mookie Betts’ cracked rib) and a lack of clutch hitting (.192 team batting average with runners in scoring position). There was also no productive depth or, occasionally, a consistent team-wide approach at the plate.

But after their dominant start to the season, the last four weeks brought new issues to light as they near the halfway point.

“I think at times we’re putting together good at-bats, running counts, just not getting a hit here or there,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Other times I think the at-bats are a little more flippant. There are ebbs and flows of guys that are swinging the bat well or struggling. But I just don’t think that for the month of June we’ve been in lockstep.”

The Dodgers’ won’t have a losing record in June, not after avoiding a sweep on Wednesday against the Colorado Rockies making them 13-12 on the month’s penultimate day.

They left Colorado still leading their division with the National League’s best winning percentage, too, at .622 (46-28).

Still, the Dodgers looked far from dominant all month as injuries continued to stack up on the mound and new questions arose about their performance at the plate.

Ahead of their four-game series this weekend against the San Diego Padres, here are five takeaways on where the Dodgers stand.

No lineup changes … at least not yet

Roberts said he has considered changing the Dodgers lineup order, especially amid the continued struggles of Max Muncy, Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger, three regulars with below league-average numbers.

For now, however, the manager said he’s going status quo, giving all three regulars playing time and the first two consistent at-bats in the middle of the order.

“I think the middle of the order, you can mix and match,” Roberts said. “You could debate.”

With Muncy, the manager said he believes the slugger is still “well on his way to having a productive season” since getting a “reset” when he returned from the injured list early this month.

While Muncy’s numbers have slightly improved since that time, they still remain well off his career norms. The first two months of the season he batted just .150 with a slugging percentage of .263 with three home runs. In 17 games in June he already has three more home runs, and is batting .188 with a .359 slugging percentage.

“Each day is a blank slate to go out there and do something to help the team,” Muncy said. “As long as I can just keep focusing on my process, I have faith that things will get going for me.”

Dodgers' Justin Turner, left, scores a run ahead of the tag from the Reds' Aramis Garcia on June 21 in Cincinnati.
Dodgers' Justin Turner, left, scores a run ahead of the tag from the Reds' Aramis Garcia on June 21 in Cincinnati. (Aaron Doster / Associated Press)

Turner has the team’s lowest OPS but has continued to bat from third to sixth in the order most nights. Roberts said it’s because of the veteran’s bat-to-ball skills and ability to produce in the clutch, citing Turner is fourth on the team in RBIs (38) and is batting .286 this season with runners in scoring position.

“The ability to drive in a run, to work a walk or run a count is valuable,” Roberts said.

Roberts said he views Turner and Chris Taylor, another right-handed bat who usually bats behind Turner in the lineup, as “interchangeable,” despite acknowledging Taylor has been having the better overall season.

“They both have different skill sets,” Roberts said. “Obviously I like both players.”

Streaking Lux’s hunting for more power

After Taylor, the other Dodger who seems most deserving of a bump up the batting order is Gavin Lux, who is hitting .354 in June and .296 on the season.

Roberts, however, said he still likes Lux at the bottom of the order, where his ability to get on base can “bleed into the top of the order.”

“Gavin, I've really defined his role for our ballclub, and that's to hit .300, get on base, run counts, and he's doing that,” Roberts said. “So I don't think we need to change that right now.”

Lux said he isn’t overly concerned about where he bats in the lineup.

His focus of late has been on trying to consistently hit for power after hitting just two home runs and 11 doubles so far this season.

“There’s still more room to grow,” Lux said, explaining he wants to “take more shots” when he gets into advantageous counts. “I think that's just a product of continuing to get at-bats, and figuring it out. But yeah, this month has been good.”

Julio Urías finding familiar form

Julio Urías said he’s been watching a lot of video of himself from last season in recent weeks.

Not coincidentally, he’s begun looking more like his old, dominant self this month, too.

After a solid yet at times inconsistent start to the year, in which he had a 2.89 ERA (and even worse underlying numbers) at the end of May, Urías has had a stellar June.

Julio Urias pitches against the Atlanta Braves on June 24.
Julio Urias pitches against the Atlanta Braves on Friday. (Butch Dill / Associated Press)

In five starts, he gave up just seven earned runs while pitching at least five innings each time (and completing six innings in three of them). He struck out 34 batters while walking only eight. And he lowered his season ERA to 2.64.

“I made some adjustments with my mechanics and that’s allowed me to be more consistent with my command and be able to get through the games the way I have,” he said.

Jake Lamb’s opportunity

Ever since signing with the Dodgers on a minor-league deal this spring, Jake Lamb has been waiting to get back in the big leagues.

It didn’t come at the end of spring training, despite the former All-Star making a “strong impression,” according to Roberts.

He had to wait through the first three months of the regular season, too, despite showing development with his swing with the club’s triple A affiliate.

This week the Dodgers called Lamb up, adding him to the big league roster ahead of what Lamb confirmed was an upcoming opt-out in his contract.

"Possibly,” Lamb said when asked if he would have opted out. “But don't have to worry about that. Just happy to be here, happy to be here with these guys."

In his first start Wednesday, Lamb looked sharp, working what Roberts called “really a couple of good at-bats” to get a hit and a walk while playing in left field.

Roberts said the 31-year-old will likely get opportunities at designated hitter, and could spell Freddie Freeman at first base in blowout games.

“I was having some fun [in triple A] going out there playing every day,” Lamb said. “I wanted to be here from the beginning. But I understand and I see where this team is at and how the team is built. I just wanted my opportunity. … So I’m happy with where I’m at.”

Padres up next

By the end of this weekend, the Dodgers could have some breathing room in the NL West — or find themselves out of the division lead entirely.

That’s what will be at stake when the Padres come to Dodger Stadium for a four-game series, when the teams will meet for only the second time this season.

"You want to win them all,” Roberts said. “I don't know where we are in the standings. I know we're leading. But they're going to come with some energy, as we've seen. We've got to match it. We've got to play good baseball. Either way, we still have a lot of baseball to play. But certainly we want to play our best baseball this series."

There will be plenty of intriguing pitching matchups in the series. The Dodgers' Mitch White will go against Joe Musgrove on Thursday. Tony Gonsolin and Blake Snell will take the mound Friday. Saturday will feature Tyler Anderson against Yu Darvish. Clayton Kershaw and McKenzie Gore are scheduled to pitch in Sunday’s finale.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.