Old-school Freddie Freeman would appreciate a batting title;  Dodgers beat Arizona

Old-school Freddie Freeman would appreciate a batting title; Dodgers beat Arizona

Freddie Freeman of the Dodgers fights in a game against the San Diego Padres on September 3, 2022.

Freddie Freeman of the Dodgers, pictured on September 3, is on track for his first batting title. He hits a NL-best .329. “If you go to a stadium, what numbers do they put on the scoreboard?” he said. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Batting average is considered old-fashioned in today’s analytics-driven game, a statistical holdover that has replaced on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and wins over substitution as more accurate measures of offense, and a batting title doesn’t count as it once did .

“For me, yes,” Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman shot back for Monday night’s 5-2 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks in front of a crowd of 44,854 people in Chavez Ravine.

“I know people don’t care much about batting average and RBIs, but when you go to a stadium, what numbers do they put on the scoreboard? It’s batting average, home runs and RBIs. If they don’t care, take them off the board.”

Freeman’s defense of batting average may be a little personal. The 2020 National League’s most valuable player and 2021 World Series champion with the Atlanta Braves is in position to win the first batting title of his 13-year career, beating his Major League-leading .329 average by seven points. St. Louis Cardinals slugger Paul Goldschmidt (.322) in NL.

Freeman has hit .300 or better six times before, but has never won an NL batting title and the accompanying Tony Gwynn trophy. He finished second with a .341 mark from Juan Soto (.351) of Washington in 2020.

“Obviously you don’t start a season saying that’s my goal,” Freeman said. “Scoring 100 runs, driving 100 runs and hitting .300 are usually the goals for me.”

Check, check and over to check. Freeman, who batted .382 with a percentage of 1,114 on-base-plus-slugging, four homeruns, 13 RBIs and 14 runs in his first 15 games this month, has 106 runs and 94 RBIs in the season.

Freeman also leads all major leaguers with a .390 (55 for 141) batting average with runners in scoring position.

“That’s how you get points on the board,” Freeman said in the first year of a $162 million six-year deal. “I think they brought me here to run in runs so I’m proud to hit with runners in scoring position. If there are guys on base I want to make sure they turn left.”

Freeman didn’t generate any of those left turns on Monday night – he went 0 for 3 with a walk – but his teammates produced plenty.

Joey Gallo crushed a 437-foot solo home run to right field in the second inning, and Chris Taylor capped a four-run fourth with a three-run homer to support Clayton Kershaw’s solid pitching, who scored one run and six hits. in six innings, struckout 10 – including five in a row in the third and fourth – and walked no batter.

Joey Gallo of Dodgers celebrates with Gavin Lux and manager Dave Roberts after scoring on a Chris Taylor homerun.

Joey Gallo of the Dodgers, left, celebrates with Gavin Lux, middle, and manager Dave Roberts after scoring on Chris Taylor’s three-run homer in the fourth inning. (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

It marked the 27th game of Kershaw’s career in which he recorded 10 or more strikeouts without a walk, breaking Randy Johnson’s previous record of 26. He racked up 19 swinging strikes between his 96 pitches. He threw 11 pitches in the first inning, 10 for strikes.

“It was great across the board,” manager Dave Roberts said of Kershaw’s outing. “I thought that first inning set the tone, just like he attacked. I know he always does, but that first inning was different. Overall, he was really methodical how he managed the attack zone. … It was really fun to to look at.”

The southpaw won a 12-pitch duel with Christian Walker, who made a mistake on six full-count pitches before turning 72 mph in the fourth.

“I don’t care if he hit a million miles per hour to the warning lane — I just wanted an out,” said Kershaw, who improved to 9-3 this season with a 2.39 ERA. “It was time to throw a curveball. I had been throwing fastballs and sliders the entire at bat, and Will [Smith, Dodgers catcher] had actually called curveball the field before.

“I shook it off and it soiled another slider, and I was like, ‘Well, it’s time.’ The curveball for me is always, ‘Can I throw it for a strike or not?’ And luckily I threw it for a strike.”

The fight was further evidence of Kershaw’s disdain for the walk.

“You know he won’t budge,” Roberts said. “Christian and Clayton have a lot of history, so you have to find different ways to get him out. He ruined some tough pitches, and I don’t remember Clayton ever throwing a 3-2 breaking ball, but on the 12th pitch he finally said, ‘I’m going to try something else.’ and he hit it on a breaking ball. It was good to see.”

Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw pushes through after delivering a pitch on September 19, 2022.

Clayton Kershaw gave up one run in six innings on Monday-evening to earn the victory in the Dodgers’ 5-2 victory over the Diamondbacks. He struckout 10 batters and walked no batters. (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Kershaw has given up four earned runs and 14 hits in four starts since returning from his last back injury, striking out 29 and walking in 24 innings for a 1.50 ERA in that stretch.

“The health is there, the performance is there, the build is there,” Roberts said of Kershaw’s playoff worthiness. “The preparation, the mentality, all those things you can rely on, so we feel good now.”

Kershaw improved to 20-11 with a 2.70 ERA in 41 career starts against Arizona. Diamondbacks righthander Merrill Kelly fell to 0-9 with a 5.97 ERA in 12 career starts against the Dodgers.

Max Muncy led to the rally in the fourth inning with an one-out double to left field. Gallo’s RBI single to the center made it 2-0, Lux singled to the right and Taylor homered to the left for a 5-0 lead.

Dodgers righthanders Evan Phillips and Tommy Kahnle each threw an inning of perfect relief with one strikeout.

Craig Kimbrel gave up a single and hit two batters to load the bases with no outs in the ninth, but second baseman Lux saved the closer with a spectacular backhanded, diving stop on Sergio Alcantara’s one-hop smash to turn a double play start with a scoring run.

Lux flipped to short stop Trea Turner for a power on second base. Turner then cut the runner to third.

“Just trying to keep the ball in the infield and trying to get one,” said Lux. “That was the most important. Keep the ball in the infield to save a few runs. A double play is the best scenario. If it happens, great. If not, just try to keep it in the infield and get out.”

Kimbrel, who gave up a three-run walk-off homer to Alcantara on Wednesday in Arizona, moved Daulton Varsho to first place when the Dodgers improved their best record in the Major League to 102-44.

With the win, the Dodgers secured a first-round bye in the playoffs, securing them one of the top two spots in an NL Division Series matchup, beginning October 11. The club’s magic number for first place in NL is six.

The Dodgers spent last season’s stretch run in a dogfight with the San Francisco Giants, who won 107 games to beat the 106-win Dodgers for the division.

The Dodgers were forced to win a wildcard game against St. Louis and survived a grueling five-game Division Series against the Giants, but were gassed at the end of a six-game NL Championship Series loss to the Braves .

“Man, what a difference a year makes,” said Roberts. “Not to make excuses, but I think that [2021] stretch took its toll on us. This year we are in a different position in terms of how we prepare.”

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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