A week ago, Lucas Duda was in danger of spending a good chunk of the NLDS in the dugout. The hulking first baseman, however, broke out of a major slump with five home runs over the past three games. Just like that, he has 27 homers and a 136 wRC+ identical to last year. During a season featuring cavernous lows but astronomical highs, the 29-year-old has five days to maintain career highs in on-base percentage (.356) and slugging percentage (.497). With Duda hulking up again, he'll likely occupy first base against the Los Angeles Dodgers despite their heavy assortment of left-handed starting pitchers.
Along with Clayton Kershaw, the National League West champions have southpaws Alex Wood and Brett Anderson at their disposal. Lefties have a career .268 wOBA against Wood. While Anderson's career splits rate slightly better against righties, he has yielded 17 of his 18 homers to them this season. This is hardly an ideal series for Duda, who has struggled to hit like-handed pitchers throughout his career.
This year has proven a different story. In 127 plate appearances versus southpaws, he's hitting .297/.346/.568 with seven long balls. Not too shabby considering his career .231/.303/.372 line. Before 2015, he hit nine homers through 469 plate appearances.
Small-sample-size variance plays a pivotal role in his newfound success. A 5.5% walk rate and 30.7% strikeout rate suggest he's not out of the clear, and a .389 BABIP especially points to some good fortune. But there are also signs of legitimate growth. His career 42.3% fly-ball percentage against lefties is up to 49.4%, and he is making harder contact while spraying more hits to center field, which suggests a change in approach yielding positive results.
Not every lefty slugger is doomed to never touch left-handed pitchers. That thinking has led Michael Conforto to receive all but 13 of his plate appearances against righties. As a reward for his tremendous contributions, the rookie's only NLDS start will come against Zack Greinke. Testing his skills during the season wouldn't have hurt, but the playoffs aren't the time to push a newcomer out of his comfort zone.
This season's performance isn't enough to believe Duda will now crush lefties with regularity. Expecting him to do his best Matt Adams impersonation against Kershaw is asking too much. Then again, it's an accomplishment anytime anyone makes contact off of baseball's premier ace. Anticipate some regression to the mean, but it's also plausible that a major league hitter made some worthwhile adjustments to fix a glaring flaw.
Ultimately, his homer barrage, not these splits, will help Duda avoid a playoff platoon. Let's hope he sustains the trend for a little while longer.