Though Corey Seager is still sidelined for weeks thanks to the hand that rocked the baseball, within a week the Dodgers are expecting to get a major reinforcement with the return of Cody Bellinger, not to mention a key boost from Zack McKinstry.
For a team that has struggled to get production from the back end of its roster, these infusions will have a major impact. Bellinger has played in only four of the team’s 45 games this season, and even while establishing himself as an early season sensation (142 OPS+), McKinstry has only appeared in 17.
Always a streaky hitter, Bellinger might require time to get back into the groove, while the promising McKinstry still needs to prove how productive he can be over the long term. Nevertheless, here’s a quick look at how this revival of the Suite Life of Zach and Cody will transform the Dodger squad we’ve been watching the past month.
- Sheldon Neuse and D.J. Peters are the obvious candidates to go to Triple-A Oklahoma City to make room for McKinstry and Bellinger respectively, unless the Dodgers decide to keep an extra position player. If the Dodgers do reduce the bullpen, Edwin Uceta and Alex Vesia currently sit on the fringe.
- Though McKinstry has played more than 600 innings of shortstop in the minors, he has played even more at second base, meaning that Gavin Lux might remain the starter at short while Seager is out. Both Lux and McKinstry bat left-handed.
- Max Muncy has been forced to play a great deal of second base with Lux covering short. At least against right-handed pitching, figure on McKinstry grabbing a lot of time at second, allowing Muncy to settle back at first.
- Albert Pujols will have to adjust to the role he was signed for — spot starter against left-handed pitching and pinch-hitter. There shouldn’t be much call at all for Pujols to start against a right-hander.
- Matt Beaty benefited like no one else from McKinstry’s absence (as well as the lost season of Edwin Ríos), taking many of the at-bats originally devoted to that pair. Beaty will need to come to terms with reduced playing time, but it will help that he has reestablished himself.
- It will be interesting to see how the Dodgers deploy Chris Taylor, who has been one of their best and most consistent hitters this season — indeed, he has a case for team MVP. Against right-handed pitching, Taylor’s primary position would be in left field, though the Dodgers can also give Beaty at-bats there and/or continue the Yoshi Tsutsugo experiment. Against southpaws, Taylor will be in every game but could rotate around the diamond depending on who sits.
- Ever since Ríos went out, the Dodgers haven’t really had a caddy for Justin Turner (.565 OPS in May). Taylor can kind of do it but has been needed elsewhere. McKinstry is experienced at third base and can fill that role.
- Rather than splitting time between center and right field, Mookie Betts can ensconce himself in right once Bellinger returns. In addition, perhaps there will be more rest time for Betts, who hasn’t quite seemed 100 percent physically.
Finally, when A.J. Pollock comes back from his hamstring injury sometime in June, he’ll really create a fight for playing time.
C-Will Smith/Austin Barnes
CF-Bellinger (Betts when Bellinger rests)
RF-Betts (Bellinger when Betts rests)
That’s a lot closer to the Dodger team we’ve imagined this year, and then, just think if they can stay healthy until Seager gets back.