Dodgers stage rallies, but continue as Max Muncy’s horrific slump continues

Hey Max Muncy, what have you been up to lately?

Dodgers fans know well that when someone asks “what’s wrong?” the answer is the same.

Standard answer: “Not much.”

That doesn’t mean Muncy isn’t popular. He was honored ahead of Thursday night’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies, handing out bobblehead figures to fans entering Dodger Stadium. His wife Kellie threw the ceremonial first pitch and Muncy held their 9-month-old daughter Sophie Kate until close to game time.

Trapped in a debilitating, season-long slump, Muncy hopes fans will fondly remember his 36 homers last season, his 35 in 2019, his 35 home runs hit in 2018.

“We have the best fans in the world and I don’t think they will forget what I’ve done over the past few years,” he said. “At the same time, they want me to be better, and I want to be better myself.”

Muncy’s contribution was minimal — two walks and a one-man check swing dribble — but the hit helped propel the Dodgers’ stunning rebound in the eighth, turning a four-point deficit into a brief tie.

The Phillies responded in the ninth with a brace against reliever Daniel Hudson for a 9-7 lead, and another Dodgers rally fell short in the next inning. Trea Turner led with his third batting average, Muncy and Will Smith walking on base against Corey Knebel. But Austin Barnes, Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor were all out, giving the Dodgers their third loss in four games.

“The rally was encouraging,” Taylor said. “We fought back. The crowd went into it. We were just behind in the ninth inning.”

Muncy got the loudest applause when the lineup was announced, and despite his .138 scoring average and 0.299 slugging percentage, he did the cleanup. He leads the National League with 27, but maybe that’s a sign that he’s being too passive on the plate, throwing the ball he should slam.

He was greeted warmly by fans before his first bat, leading in the second inning and hitting a curveball in the dirt of Philadelphia ace Zack Wheeler. Muncy hit another low break in the fourth to go into the sixth before a single in the eighth.

His batting kept the bases out, followed by Smith’s RBI single and pinch hitter Justin Turner’s two-run double to cut the Dodgers’ deficit to 7-6. Taylor’s single brought Smith home to tie the game.

Overall, Muncy’s batting was a far cry from head coach Dave Roberts’ pregame wishful thinking.

“I’m sure the fans will come out to support him and will be clamoring for a bobblehead, hoping he hits a home run,” he said.

Home runs are a tradition on the Dodgers’ shake day, starting with Manny Ramirez’s 2009 major. Hanley Ramirez dives into his Shake Day 2013, followed by Yasiel Puig in 2015, Howie Kendrick in 2016, Manny Machado and Bellinger in 2018, and Bellinger’s double in 2019.

Last year, Betts hit a home run on his head-shaking day, too. . . Muncy. In a win over the San Francisco Giants on June 29, he hit the ball 404 feet into the right field.

Dodgers center Cody Bellinger greets Max Muncy and Trea Turner after Will Smith’s two-pointer in the sixth inning of Thursday’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Dodger Stadium base score.

(Kyusung Kong/Associated Press)

However, the shaking head spell didn’t help Muncy against the Phillies. He has gone too far.

Despite his strikeout against Wheeler, he didn’t chase pitches out of the zone very often, even if the outs and runners stayed on base. Roberts prefers to attribute Muncy’s patience to a refusal to panic.

“There are some great hitters, solid touches, he’s still walking, and I still like the quality of the hitters,” Roberts said. “It’s easy to bet on a positive outcome.”

Muncy’s ability to recognize hitting the ball is his greatest asset, beyond his apparent strength. No twisted arm could convince him to become more aggressive. And, in fact, the mere suggestion of twisting his arm was enough to make him cringe.

Muncy, 31, tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow on the final day of the 2021 regular season when a base runner sprinted through his outstretched arm at first base with an abnormally bent elbow.

The Dodgers were vague about the severity of the injury, with Roberts insisting Muncy could return at some point in the playoffs. Turns out it was all a bluff. He didn’t disclose his torn ligament until December.

Is the arm a factor in his current slump? Completely healed?

“Well, I don’t know,” he said Thursday, shaking his head. “I do not know.”

Another potentially stressful factor is that Muncy’s three-year, $26 million deal expires at the end of the season, but it includes a $13 million team option. All Muncy is expected to need to do is give the Dodgers an option, as he did in his first four seasons with the team.

But the horrific slump continues every day, and the 121 home runs and 309 at-bats he amassed from 2018 to 2021 seem even more out of reach.

Even on an evening with a group of admiring people in his corner.

sporty.

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