Mookie Betts offered two observations about Globe Life Field on Monday afternoon.
“It’s a pretty big field,” the Dodgers leadoff hitter said of the pitcher-friendly host site in Arlington, Texas, for this week’s National League Division Series. “But that means there’s a lot of hits out there, so we just [need to] build innings with hits instead of homers.”
In the regular season, the Dodgers were at their most dangerous doing the latter. They led Major League Baseball in homers with 118, scored more than half their runs via the long ball and went 39-10 in games they left the park at least once.
Home runs, however, were a rarity by comparison this season at Globe Life Field, potentially giving this week’s NLDS between the power-hitting Dodgers and Padres — who were also among MLB’s top four teams in homers and slugging percentage — a different dynamic.
“You can still get it out of the ballpark if you really square it up,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, noting the team’s analytics department estimates about 10 extra feet of carry on fly balls if the stadium’s roof remains open as expected.
“But certainly, getting the ball moving forward and getting baserunners, however you do it, is most important.”
It’s fair to wonder whether the Dodgers have that club in the bag. Though they led baseball in runs scored, they ranked 11th in batting average, 12th in doubles and 12th in walk rate.
In the 11 games in which they failed to hit a home run, they lost seven. And though they had the league’s best “hard hit” percentage and second-best fly-ball-to-grounder ratio, they ranked 22nd in line drive rate.
In other words, they’re a team made up of fly-ball hitters. Whether that approach — which Roberts and Betts said isn’t going to change because of the venue — will continue work this week remains to be seen.
“I think we’ve done it at times,” Roberts said of scoring without the homer, citing his team’s ability to draw walks and produce well-timed hits in last week’s wild-card series as the most recent example.
“I think that if you look at a lot of the guys, whether it’s [Justin Turner], whether it’s Mookie, whether it’s Corey [Seager], Chris Taylor, we’ve built some innings, getting guys that can find some outfield grass and not just for the homer.”
The Padres don’t exactly take the slap-it-around-the-infield approach either, earning the nickname “Slam Diego” for all the home runs they hit this year.
However, as MLB’s second-leading team in hard hit percentage, they did record a .291 batting average on balls in play that ranked 15th in MLB and was 15 points higher than the Dodgers.
San Diego’s pitching staff also kept the Dodgers’ offense somewhat in check in their 10 head-to-head meetings (of which the Dodgers won six) this season, limiting them to a .716 on-base-plus-slugging while allowing home runs on only 4.12% of plate appearances, the lowest and third-lowest numbers the Dodgers recorded against an opponent this year, respectively.
It all increases the likelihood that the Dodgers might have to manufacture most of their offense this week, that they might not be able to rely so heavily on home runs to get their runs home.
“It’s always our emphasis to pass the baton and hit balls as hard as we can,” Turner told SportsNet LA. “That’s something our offense is going to continue to do. Grind out ABs, take our walks, and when they throw it over the plate, just hit it hard somewhere.”