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Dodgers

Column: Mookie Betts at top of lineup means Dodgers will be World Series underdogs no more

Red Sox Arbitration Baseball
The acquisition of Mookie Betts gives the Dodgers as much, if not more, offensive firepower than any oher team in baseball.
(Michael Dwyer / Associated Press)

When describing the Dodgers, qualifiers aren’t necessary anymore.

Their lineup isn’t just scary for a National League team. Their lineup is scary, period.

The addition of Mookie Betts will make this subtle but substantial difference for the Dodgers, who now have the offensive firepower that matches, if not surpasses, that of any other team in baseball.

Their acquisition of Betts is expected to be finalized in the coming days, as an agreed-upon three-team trade with the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins is pending the review of medical records.

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As many runs as the Dodgers have scored in recent years, as much as they have trampled their opposition in the regular season, somewhere in the backs of their minds, they had to know they would encounter superior lineups if they reached the World Series.

The Houston Astros, who were aided by an illegal sign-stealing scheme, were more explosive when they outlasted the Dodgers in 2017.

The Red Sox, with American League most valuable player Betts as their leadoff hitter, were simply better when they steamrolled the Dodgers in 2018.

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Betts is the equalizer.

At 27, he is in his prime. Only one season away from becoming a free agent for the first time, he will be motivated.

The 5-foot-9 Betts is a bona fide superstar.

Players of this caliber can transform the most imposing lineups, even one that led the NL in scoring last year.

Think of Manny Ramirez in 2008 or Hanley Ramirez in 2013.

Dodgers
Manny Ramirez ignited the Dodgers’ lineup in 2008.
(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

Betts does everything well and should help diversify a Dodgers offense that has at times been overly dependent on home runs.

He topped the majors in runs in each of the last two seasons. When he won the MVP award, he stole 30 bases and his on-base percentage of .438 was second only to Mike Trout’s .460.

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The four-time Gold Glove right fielder also has some pop. He hit 29 home runs last year and 32 the year before that.

Come October, Betts will provide the Dodgers with multiple avenues to win five- or seven-game series.

Manager Dave Roberts has wanted to decrease the Dodgers’ use of platoons and field a more regular lineup, something Betts will allow him to do as the team’s everyday leadoff hitter. Betts’ right-handed bat will also balance a team that was heavily left-handed.

Roberts will be able to alternate left- and right-handed hitters at the top of the lineup, where Betts can be followed, in order, by left-handed-hitting first baseman Max Muncy, right-handed-hitting third baseman Justin Turner and left-handed-hitting center fielder Cody Bellinger, the league’s reigning MVP.

The four players alone combined for 138 home runs last year.

Even with Joc Pederson headed to the Angels and Alex Verdugo to the Red Sox, the Dodgers’ lineup will have its trademark depth.

The bottom half of the lineup could include shortstop Corey Seager, left fielder A.J. Pollock, catcher Will Smith and rookie second baseman Gavin Lux.

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The only player in that group who didn’t hit at least 15 major league home runs last season was Lux, who hit 26 homers in the minors and two with the Dodgers after being called up in September.

And what if Seager, who was in his first season back from reconstructive elbow surgery last year, regains his place as a top-five player in the NL? What if Pollock, who missed 2½ months with elbow problems, remains healthy and produces like he did after his July 12 return? Or what if Lux can follow Seager and Bellinger by winning a rookie of the year award?

The Dodgers have a chance to be historic.

That doesn’t mean Betts has solved all of their problems.

The bullpen could still be a mess, with $10-million reclamation project Blake Treinen the only significant addition to a group anchored by a declining Kenley Jansen and an inconsistent Joe Kelly. The rotation has more solid pitchers than spots but could use another high-end starter to pair with ace-in-the-making Walker Buehler.

Dodgers infielder Justin Turner grew up idolizing Kobe Bryant and pitcher Clayton Kershaw admired the Lakers star for his larger-than-life presence.

Still, the pending trade with the Red Sox, in which the Dodgers managed to hold on to their top prospects by agreeing to take on part of 34-year-old left-hander David Price’s contract, marks a step forward for an organization 32 years removed from its last World Series title.

Whatever advantage the Dodgers had entering their last two World Series appearances — namely, their relief pitching — wasn’t as pronounced as the edges their opponents had on offense. The Dodgers went into both series as underdogs. In other words, they were built to win the NL and were taking a see-what-happens approach in the World Series.

That’s no longer the case.

In his sixth season as the Dodgers president of baseball operations, Andrew Friedman has finally constructed a team that is unmistakably designed to reach the sport’s greatest heights. This team is built to win a World Series.


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