LOS ANGELES — Remember the “Big Blue Wrecking Crew?”
It was 1974, the Dodgers were starting to stand up to Cincinnati’s vaunted Big Red Machine, and the folks at their new flagship radio station decided that the home nine needed a catchy nickname of their own, so voila! Hard hats.
Those Dodgers won 102 games and reached the World Series. And they hit 139 home runs, led by 32 from newcomer Jim Wynn, aka the Toy Cannon.
No, they don’t produce nicknames like they used to. But we digress.
Today’s Dodgers entered Monday night’s homestand opener against the Cubs with 102 home runs in 76 games and added two more in this one to give them 48 in the month of June. They provided an exclamation point Sunday with seven solo shots, including Justin Turner’s winner in the 11th for an 8-7 victory over the Mets, with five more games to run up their June total.
“We have a really deep roster, to where even the guys who aren’t playing are really talented, and we’re not losing any steps,” said Cody Bellinger, who smashed a pair on Sunday at Citi Field after hitting a grand slam on Friday.
They are on pace for 217 homers in 162 games, which would be within launching distance of last year’s 221, the franchise record. That team launched 53 in June.
So, if you’re so inclined, what nickname fits this bunch? The Sledgehammers? The Blue Bulldozer?
How about Slug City? The manager probably would approve, since it involves extra-base hits overall, not just home runs.
“You look at our lineup, and we’re built to slug,” Dave Roberts said Monday afternoon. “That’s just the way it is. Each night we have six or seven or eight guys who can hit a homer at any point in time.
“And so when now you have a team-wide approach, where guys are taking their walks when they need to and swinging at strikes, they’ll slug. (Hitters are) taking their walks, and when they get an opportunity to capitalize on a mistake they’re hitting it for (power).”
• While going 15-5 in the month before Monday night, the Dodgers led the National League in not only home runs but in extra-base hits (88), slugging percentage (.527) and OPS (.868).
• Six players are in double figures in homers: Bellinger and Max Muncy with 15, Matt Kemp with 13, Kiké Hernandez with 13 – including one in the second inning Monday night – Yasmani Grandal with 11 and Joc Pederson with 10.
• The guy everybody expected to lead the charge, Turner, has just three. But he’s played just 31 games and is still playing through discomfort in the right wrist that was injured in spring training. Give him time.
And consider the backstories. Muncy essentially came out of nowhere. Bellinger’s weaknesses were supposedly exposed in last year’s postseason. Kemp was the guy no one expected to break camp with the team but could be in the National League’s starting outfield at next month’s All-Star Game. Pederson got off to a great start as a rookie on 2015 (20 home runs going into the All-Star break) but had struggled to find consistency since.
Kemp’s success has had a lot to do with strike zone discipline, Roberts said.
And Pederson has “been the poster child of really changing who you are as a major league hitter,” the manager added. “He could always slug … but I think that now he’s as under control as I’ve ever seen.”
If there is a common denominator or magic formula, it might be an instruction so simple we all heard it as kids: Swing at strikes, don’t swing at balls. It’s no accident that Bellinger and Muncy are also the team leaders in walks, with 36 and 35 respectively before Monday night.
“Stand in the zone and get a good pitch to hit,” hitting coach Turner Ward said. “That’s what we do damage on. … There’s a patient aggressiveness that we’re trying to maintain. And when we do that, we’re really good.
“… When we’re staying in the zone so good that it produces a walk, it makes the guy behind you better. And that’s what we’re trying to focus on: How can I make my teammates better by controlling the zone?”
Really, there is no magic formula, or at least not one that’s legal. The launch angle is the popular explanation for power surges these days, but as Ward reminds us, Ted Williams was preaching that 60 years ago. And if you uppercut and still hit the top of the ball, it’s not going to be launched anywhere.
So exercising plate discipline and punishing mistakes is as good an explanation as any for a power surge. That, and a willingness to adjust, since the pitcher/hitter duel constantly evolves as each side has more information at its disposal.
“That’s the cat-and-mouse game,” said Bellinger, forced to adapt after pitchers zeroed in on his weaknesses in the 2017 postseason. “You just try and stay on top of it when they’re trying to make an adjustment (on) you, try to make it right back.”
Or, as Ward put it, borrowing a phrase from Clayton Kershaw:
“Adjust or die, OK?”
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