But a leadoff solo homer from Joc Pederson, a high-arcing shot that just cleared the right-center field wall, was the difference for 3 hours 13 minutes and held as the game-winning run.
The Dodgers were all long ball to start the playoffs, an offensive formula that some believe is not to be trusted this time of year. The idea is that a home run-happy lineup is shaky in October, when games get tighter and runs harder to come by. But that could be passed off as largely anecdotal, an argument the Dodgers may make, especially when teams are riding home runs to success.
And the Dodgers may very well have a point.
“I never heard of that notion, but yeah, the postseason you’re facing some of the best pitchers, and good pitchers usually don’t give up home runs,” Pederson said Thursday night. “So you gotta grind out at-bats, and I think we do a great job of that and hit with runners on base, get the guy over, situational hitting all plays a part of it. But I mean, sometimes a home run does the job.”
He paused and took a deep breath.
“So I don't know what to tell you,” Pederson finished, and he was really suggesting that it was very hard to argue against a 6-0 win.
Last fall, after Major League Baseball set a record for home runs in a single season, the Dodgers and Houston Astros traded seven homers in Game 5 of the World Series. That helped set highs for home runs in a single postseason (then 101), homers hit in a single World Series (then 22) and the number of players to hit a home run in a World Series (then 14). The Astros eventually won the game, 13-12, and power was a constant of their title run.
That reverberated into this season, as baseball continues to favor slugging hitters and high-velocity pitchers. The New York Yankees hit a record 267 home runs this season. The Dodgers led the National League with 235. Seven of the eight remaining playoff teams were in the top 10: the Yankees, Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers (218), Cleveland Indians (216), Colorado Rockies (210), Boston Red Sox (209) and Astros (205).
The Braves are the only team standing that hit fewer than 200 home runs this season, ranking 19th with 175. It is fitting that they are the least popular pick to make noise this postseason. It’s also fitting that they were on the wrong end of three homers Thursday. The Dodgers and Braves face off in Game 2 of the NLDS at 9:37 Eastern time in Los Angeles on Friday.
“I feel like a lot of the home runs we’ve had have come off long at-bats, working the counts and wearing the pitcher down,” Muncy said after the Game 1 win, defending the Dodgers’ offense as both fundamental and sustainable. “Again, I don’t feel like we’re trying to hit a home run. It’s just the result of a good approach.”
Muncy led Los Angeles with 35 home runs this season and was one of seven Dodgers to hit more than 20. That was also accomplished by Cody Bellinger (25), Pederson (25), Yasmani Grandal (24), Yasiel Puig (23), Enrique Hernandez (21) and Matt Kemp (21). The Dodgers do not need to change in October, even if old conventions suggest they should, even if their situational hitting was not great down the stretch, even if there will be times when they need to lay down a bunt, move a runner over with a grounder to the right side or plate a critical run on a sacrifice fly.
That may test the Dodgers’ lineup and reveal a few flaws. But they could have just enough power to cover those up.
“I have seen a much better effort from our guys,” said Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts, taking the pragmatic view of his team’s plate approach in recent weeks. “And to expect you’re just going to face quality pitching in the postseason and just tee off and hit homers is very unrealistic."