Cody Bellinger Finds Redemption

And other observations from the Dodgers series tying victory.

Thank you to everyone who participated in our live game chat yesterday. I’m still trying to figure out how I want this newsletter to work, but you guys have been so into chatting that I’m definitely going to use live game threads going forward. If the Dodgers are eliminated, we will still chat during a few games a week throughout the playoffs, and probably during every World Series game. I appreciate everyone for keeping it civil and fun! Now let’s dive into the game last night…

I don’t know what it’s like to strike out in front of 54,000 people, over and over again. But I do know what it’s like to want a mulligan on 2021— or at least a magic wand to whisk us into 2022 already. I think most of us do. For the last year-and-a-half so many us have endured isolation, health scares, job losses, and other near-constant pandemic anxieties. Watching one of the most feared hitters in the world morph into a feeble man with a toothpick for a bat is a daily reminder for me about how humbled we’ve all been.

Dodger fans know how bad Bellinger has been this year, but the rest of the baseball world is just now finding out how terribly the 2019 NL MVP has struggled. Of hitters with at least 350 at-bats, Bellinger had the second worst batting average in the majors at .165. He was 2-for-53 (!) with 25(!) strikeouts this season against the Giants when he stepped up to plate with the bases loaded in the 6th inning and one out and the Dodgers leading the game 2-1. He got a first pitch cookie and whacked it off the wall in left-center, narrowly missing a grand slam by about three feet. I hate to be that insufferable person who quotes Walt Whitman, but when Bellinger landed on second base after that majestic hit it felt like his barbaric yawp. Or a demon exorcism.

I wrote on Friday that getting any production out of the 7-8-9 hitters was a big key to the Dodgers winning this series. Los Angeles got that last night in spades. Bellinger, AJ Pollock, and Julio Urías drove in five of the Dodgers nine runs.

I also wrote that Urías was the series X-factor because of his ability to both win games as a starter and close them out as a reliever. The Dodgers look especially good going forward because Dave Roberts was able to pull Urías after 5 strong innings and only 72 pitches, which sets him up nicely to either relieve in game 4 on short rest, or piggy back Walker Buehler on regular rest in game 5 should LA need it.

Urías shoving in the postseason is not new. He closed out the NL pennant win last year for the Dodgers and then he pitched three perfect innings to save the World Series clincher. I’d pencil him in to pitch multiple innings in game 4, without question. Especially now that Tony Gonsolin will be expected to start (or at least pitch the bulk of that game’s innings) in Clayton Kershaw’s place.

Maybe Bellinger collecting the biggest hit of the year so far for the Dodgers should have been expected precisely because no one was expecting it. That’s the way the playoffs work. But for as bad as Bellinger has been this year, he is, after all, the same guy who hit the home run to beat the Braves for the NL pennant last year. We know there’s an MVP in there somewhere. Bellinger has been hammered by injuries and self-doubt in 2021, but he erased all that yuckiness last night with one swing. I’m not sure where the guy who smacked that back breaking double has been all year, but I woke up this morning happy he finally showed up.

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Max Scherzer will take the ball for Los Angeles as the series moves back to Los Angeles on Monday. Up until about a week ago, I would give the W to the Dodgers just based on Scherzer alone— but now I don’t know. Scherzer dominated in his first nine starts for Los Angeles, but the last three have been wobbly. The Dodgers did win the wild card game he started, but he didn’t have command of his pitches at all, and fought through traffic on the bases every inning. On the other hand, Scherzer is so good that even thought he didn’t have his best stuff he was still able to hold the Cardinals to just one run on a wild pitch during his five innings, then turn the ball over to the Dodgers bullpen, which was essentially perfect.

I’d still take Scherzer in a game over Alex Wood (the Giants game 3 starter)— but it’s not as easy a decision as Dodger fans would like it to be. Wood is not going to be jittery like SF’s game 2 starter Kevin Gausman appeared to be. Gausman was making his first career postseason start. Wood has already pitched in three different World Series (for the Dodgers!) Everyone remembers how good he was against the cheating Astros in 2017, when he fired 7.2 innings and gave up just one earned run. He also pitched four scoreless innings across two appearances vs. the Rays in the World Series last year. Wood is not as good as the future Hall of Famer Scherzer, obviously, but he’s not going to be afraid to start the Giants biggest game of the season. That’s all San Francisco can ask for.