LOS ANGELES — With all the high-priced talent on the Los Angeles Dodgers’ roster, Max Muncy had to find a way to stand out. He has done it with his bat, coming from the minors to lead the team in home runs.
He slugged 35 homers in the regular season, propelled by a first-half tear that landed him in the Home Run Derby.
Muncy’s three-run drive powered the Dodgers to a win in the opener of their National League Division Series against Atlanta, and they eventually eliminated the Braves in four games.
“The whole experience has been incredible,” Muncy said.
Next up is the NLCS against Milwaukee starting Friday, putting Muncy in a best-of-seven series for the first time in his career.
Don’t expect him to be rattled, either.
“Starting with game 163 I was kind of nervous, but you look at how everyone else in the clubhouse is walking around handling themselves,” Muncy said Wednesday. “There’s so much experience there. There’s no panic, there’s no worry. They’re all calm as can be. That kind of resonates through me. If it wasn’t for those guys, then maybe it’s a different story.”
His results seem all the more improbable because Muncy isn’t an everyday player. He pops up anywhere from first base to second to third, and occasionally the outfield.
The 28-year-old utility player was a non-roster invitee at spring training. He began the season at Triple-A Oklahoma City, shivering in freezing weather during the team’s opener at Iowa on April 5.
Less than two weeks later, Muncy was called up by the Dodgers because of injuries. He homered in his second at-bat and kept on going.
“He’s just killed it for us,” teammate Ross Stripling.
During All-Star weekend, Muncy defeated the Cubs’ Javier Baez in the first round of the Derby before losing to eventual champion Bryce Harper in the next round.
After the break, Muncy struggled at the plate, with his average dipping to .183.
“I was just focused on trying to get back to where I needed to be, back to controlling the strike zone, putting good swings on balls,” he said.
Buoyed by manager Dave Roberts’ unflagging belief, Muncy recovered his stroke and has continued to contribute in big moments. One of his best traits is his discipline at the plate, knowing when to let a pitch go by and when to swing.
“It’s just something that I’ve always had,” he said. “It’s one of those things where you kind of either have it or you don’t.”
Stripling faced Muncy back in their high school days in North Texas and later in college, with Muncy at Baylor and Stripling pitching at Texas A&M.
“He was a guy that was always going to command the strike zone and just going to be just an absolute brutal matchup because he spits on good pitches, he commands the zone and puts the bat on the ball and walks,” Stripling said after a workout at Dodger Stadium.
“In college he had some power and hit some home runs. He’s made some swing adjustments that have maybe created some more power,” Stripling said.
A fifth-round pick in the 2012 major league draft, Muncy was released by Oakland in March 2017. He got signed by the Dodgers and sent to the minors, where pitcher Walker Buehler was also in Oklahoma City.
Six months ago in Iowa, Muncy figured Buehler was a lock to wind up in Los Angeles, but wasn’t so sure about himself.
Now, the rookie and the seven-year journeyman have created a buzz in the Dodgers’ bid to win their first World Series title since 1988.
“I know for both of us to be able to help out this team the entire year the way we have it’s just been something that’s been very special,” Muncy said.