Batting average is considered old-fashioned in today’s analytics game, a statistical relic that has been replaced by on-base percentage, slugging percentage and wins above replacement as more accurate measures of offense, and a batting title doesn’t carry the weight it once did. .
“It is for me,” Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman replied before Monday night’s 5-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks in front of a crowd of 44,854 at Chavez Ravine.
“I know people don’t put a lot of stock in batting average and RBI, but if you go to a ballpark, what numbers do they put on the scoreboard? It’s batting average, home runs, and RBIs. If they don’t really care, then get them off the board.”
Freeman’s defense of the average may be a little personal. The 2020 National League MVP and 2021 World Series champion with the Atlanta Braves is in position to win the first title of his 13-year career, a league-leading .329 average seven points better than the St. Louis slugger. Louis Cardinals Paul Goldschmidt (.322) in the NL.
Freeman has hit .300 or better six previous times, but has never won an NL title and the Tony Gwynn Trophy that comes with it. He finished second at .341 to Washington’s Juan Soto (.351) in 2020.
“Obviously, you don’t go into any season saying that’s my goal,” Freeman said. “Put in 100 runs, drive in 100 runs and hit .300 are usually the goals for me.”
Check, check and ready check. Freeman, who hit .382 with a 1.114 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, four homers, 13 RBI and 14 runs in his first 15 games this month, has 106 runs and 94 RBI on the season.
Freeman also leads all major leaguers with a .390 average (55 for 141) with runners in scoring position.
“That’s how you get points on the board,” said Freeman, in the first year of a six-year, $162 million deal. “I think I was brought here to drive in runs, so I take a lot of pride in hitting with runners in scoring position. When guys are on base, I want to keep them making left turns.”
Freeman didn’t generate any of those lefty swings Monday night — he went 0 for 3 with a walk — but his teammates did plenty of them.
Joey Gallo crushed a 437-foot solo homer to right field in the second inning, and Chris Taylor capped off a fourth quarter with a triple to support the strong pitching of Clayton Kershaw, who gave up one run and six hits in six innings. he struck out 10 — including five in a row in the third and fourth — and walked none.
It marked Kershaw’s 27th career game in which he recorded 10 or more strikeouts without a walk, breaking Randy Johnson’s previous record of 26. He induced 19 swings among his 94 pitches. He threw 11 pitches in the first inning, 10 for strikes.
“It was great all around,” manager Dave Roberts said of Kershaw’s outing. “I thought the first inning set the tone, just the way he pitched. I know he always does that, but that first game was different. Overall, how he managed the strike zone was really methodical. … It was really fun to watch.”
The left-hander won a 12-pitch duel with Christian Walker, who fouled off six full-count pitches before hitting a 72 mph curveball in the fourth.
“I don’t care if he hit a million miles an hour on the warning track — I just wanted an out,” said Kershaw, who improved to 9-3 with a 2.39 ERA this season. “It’s time to throw a curveball. I had been throwing fastballs and sliders the entire at-bat, and so had Will [Smith, Dodgers catcher] he had called the curveball on the pitch before.
“I got him out and he fouled another slider, and I was like, ‘Well, it’s time.’ The curveball, to me, is always, “Can I throw it for a strike or not?” And luckily, I threw it for a strike.”
The battle was another testament to Kershaw’s disdain for the walk.
“You know he’s not going to back down,” Roberts said. “Christian and Clayton have a lot of history, so you have to find different ways to get him out. He threw some tough pitches and I don’t ever remember Clayton throwing a 3-2 breaking ball, but on the 12th pitch he finally said, “I’ll try something different.” and punched him into a wrecking ball. It was good to see.”
Kershaw has given up four earned runs and 14 hits in four starts since returning from his latest back injury, striking out 29 and walking four in 24 innings for a 1.50 ERA in that stretch.
“The health is there, the performance is there, the build-up is there,” Roberts said of Kershaw’s playoff value. “The preparation, the mentality, everything you can do, so we’re feeling good right now.”
Kershaw improved to 20-11 with a 2.70 ERA in 41 career starts against Arizona. Diamondbacks right-hander Merrill Kelly fell to 0-9 with a 5.97 ERA in 12 career starts against the Dodgers.
Max Muncy sparked the fourth-inning rally with a double to left field. Gallo’s RBI single to center made it 2-0, Lux singled to right and Taylor singled to left for a 5-0 lead.
Dodgers right-handers Evan Phillips and Tommy Kahnle each pitched a perfect one-hitter in relief.
Craig Kimbrel gave up a single and struck out two batters to load the bases with no outs in the ninth, but second baseman Lux managed to escape the closer with a spectacular backhand, diving catch on Sergio Alcantara’s one-out hitter to start a double play with a run scored.
Lux turned to shortstop Trea Turner for a force out to second base. Turner then cut down the runner heading to third.
“I’m just trying to keep the ball inside and trying to get a goal out there,” Lux said. “That was the main thing. Keep the ball inside to save some runs. A double play is the best case scenario. If it happens, great. If not, just try to keep it in and get out.”
Kimbrel, who gave up a three-run homer to Alcantara on Wednesday in Arizona, got Daulton Warsaw to lead off as the Dodgers improved their major league record to 102-44.
With the win, the Dodgers clinched a first-round bye in the playoffs, securing them one of the top two seeds in the NL Division Series beginning Oct. 11. The club’s magic number to win the top seed in the NL is six.
The Dodgers spent last season’s stretch run in a dogfight with the San Francisco Giants, who won 107 games to pass the Dodgers with 106 wins for the division.
The Dodgers were forced to win a wild-card game against the 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,” Roberts said. “Not for excuses, but I believe it  the stretch is hurting us. This year, we’re in a different position in terms of how we’re going to prepare.”
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.