The 2021 Dodgers were ravaged by injury. Cody Bellinger had multiple injuries that limited him to 95 games played. Corey Seager also played only 95 games after a hit-by-pitch broke his hand in May. Mookie Betts had hip and back issues that limited him to 122 games. AJ Pollock played just 117 games (which, admittedly, is a lot for him) due to multiple hamstring injuries. Zach McKinstry got off to a hot start but never regained the magic after an oblique injury cost him over a month. And, of course, Max Muncy was injured in the final weekend of the regular season and missed the postseason.
As a result of all those injuries, the Dodgers gave a lot of plate appearances to a group of players who weren’t quite ready for prime time. The group of Billy McKinney, Luke Raley, Sheldon Neuse, Steven Souza Jr., DJ Peters, Yoshi Tsutsugo, Andy Burns, and Zack Reks came to the plate a combined 362 times and posted a combined .154 batting average.
The Dodgers did have one notable surprise in Albert Pujols, but even that comes with an asterisk. When the Dodgers signed Pujols, they surely didn’t envision him getting 204 plate appearances, and while his 99 OPS+ was his best since 2016, many of his at-bats came in the place of Corey Seager’s 143 OPS+, as Seager’s injury came just hours after the Dodgers signed Pujols.
According to J.P. Hoornstra of the Orange County Register, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts is feeling a lot better about the bench depth of this year’s team.
“Not to take away anything from anyone we had, but if you look at the options on the position-player side, the pitching side as far as the ’pen, the floor has been raised considerably,” Roberts said. “Right now, Miggy’s not on the (26-man) roster, but knowing we have someone like that if we need someone to pull from, is encouraging for all of us.”
Roberts’ mention of Miguel Vargas kind of underscores the difference. Vargas is a top prospect who, by all accounts, has a big-league-ready bat and is only in the minors because they’re trying to figure out his defensive future. If the Dodgers were to lose someone late in the season like they did last year with Muncy, Vargas would easily slot in at DH with the defensive versatility of the rest of the team allowing them to cover for whoever was hurt.
While no one is quite willing to put it in these terms, the Dodgers are feeling good knowing that if their postseason is on the line and they need a bit hit with the tying runs in scoring position like they did in Game 6 of the NLCS last year, they can send Vargas, Joey Gallo, or Trayce Thompson to the plate instead of Souza.
Will the outcome be different? Only time will tell. But the Dodgers are in a better position than they were last year, that’s for sure.
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