Cody Bellinger isn’t going to be hitting above .400 in September, but his emphatic start to the 2019 season has featured much more than a simple home run threat. And if the heroics continue at a reasonable rate, the versatile 23-year-old gives the Los Angeles Dodgers the invincible bat they need to win the World Series.
Bellinger is simply raking. Currently hitting a Major League Baseball-best .403 while totaling 52 hits, 14 home runs, 38 RBIs, and 23 extra-base hits, he has been the most productive hitter in the sport; he has also stolen six bases. Without Bellinger, the Dodgers (24-14) wouldn’t be in first place in the National League West.
But it’s more than just the production with Bellinger. Granted his uppercut, home-run happy swing hasn’t gone anywhere, he’s driving the ball more, whiffing less, and exhibiting more plate discipline. In doing so, he’s using his long swing to make more line-drive contact.
In years past, he has essentially been a strikeout or home run hitter, and while the power numbers somewhat offset that liability (Bellinger totaled 64 home runs and 173 RBIs from 2017-18), it was evident that there was room for growth with the 2017 NL Rookie of the Year. This year he’s turning quicker on inside pitches intended to jam him and sending them into the stands, or turning them into easy base hits; he has been more than just a threat to go yard on a high pitch in the zone, or a scraping low one.Cody Bellinger's rampant start is exciting, and also a building block to the 23-year-old being the postseason hero the Dodgers need in another World Series run. @RPStratakos has more.Click To Tweet
Every team needs a complete hitter, or near-five-tool player to win the World Series. Going into this season the Dodgers didn’t have that player, and one could argue they still don’t given how young the season is and the potential for Bellinger to return to his old ways at the plate.
Now, don’t be mistaken: This is a deep Dodgers lineup, it’s just not performing up to their individual standards, outside of Bellinger and Alex Verdugo — who has totaled more hits so far this season (30) than his previous two combined (24). Corey Seager is still trying to return to his pre-2018 injury ways, currently hitting .234; before suffering an elbow injury, free agent signee A.J. Pollock was hitting just .223; Joc Pederson is producing power numbers that surprise no one, but also hitting .228; Chris Taylor is hitting .223; Enrique Hernandez is hitting .242.
At the same time, while there are plenty of well-known players in this lineup, none of them are threats to hit for contact, power, and lead the offensive charge. Are they big-impact players who are vital pieces to the Dodgers lineup? Of course, but not to the point where their absence, outside of Justin Turner, decimates the team’s offense.
Bellinger is the force keeping manager Dave Roberts‘ lineup humming. And when the aforementioned commodities inevitably return to form, the Dodgers will have the best offensive attack in baseball. With that said, they will need Bellinger to continue to be an MVP-caliber hitter.
Every contender, or playoff-caliber ballclub has a big bopper who is, or has shown the ability to be a multidimensional hitter. The Philadelphia Phillies have Bryce Harper; the Atlanta Braves have Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr.; the New York Mets have Robinson Cano; the Washington Nationals have Anthony Rendon; the Chicago Cubs have Javier Baez; the Milwaukee Brewers have Christian Yelich; the St. Louis Cardinals have Paul Goldschmidt; the Colorado Rockies have Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story.
Bellinger is showing the ability to be the Dodgers alpha-dog, well-rounded hitter. Let’s also not forgot how he plays three positions with ease (first base, center field, right field), which none of those other big names do.
The Dodgers, without a doubt, own one of the most proven and lethal offenses in the sport, but they haven’t had that player who hits for contact and power and leads their offense in quite some time. This year the tide is turning.
The Dodgers are the back-to-back NL pennant champions; they’re the best team in the NL and a virtually flawless team. Sure, they traded Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, and Alex Wood in the offseason, but adding Pollock filled the void created by those departures in their outfield. Plus, given the Dodgers depth, success and breaking through to win the World Series was and is going to be determined by internal growth.
Time will time whether Bellinger can continue his transformed approach at the plate and hold his own in the dog days of the season. But the first 36 games of the 2019 regular season are a glimpse into what full-fledged Bellinger can be because he’s still only in his third MLB season. Five years from now he could be the best outfielder, or one of the five best players in baseball for all we know; anything is possible with the way he’s performing in the early stages of 2019.
The Dodgers are a pennant threat with Bellinger performing like he did in his first two MLB seasons. But with the slugger playing at, or near the level he is right now, they’re the most complete and dangerous team in baseball.