Dodgers know why Mookie Betts could be the NL MVP
The case for Mookie Betts as the 2020 National League MVP doesn’t begin with the numbers. Those are nice. Betts was tops in the majors in bWAR and tied for first in home runs after Sunday while supplying plus defense and elite baserunning for the team with the best record.
Their argument starts with the unquantifiable. It starts with his leadership and work ethic, with his selflessness and willingness to become an unofficial hitting coach for teammates. It starts with plays like the one he made in the seventh inning Saturday against the Colorado Rockies.
The Dodgers were leading 5-1 when Rockies reliever Mychal Givens tried picking off Betts at second base. The throw was wild and bounced to center field. Betts scampered to third base, and he didn’t stop. He sprinted home once he saw that the center fielder still had the ball as he rounded third base and beat a relay throw with a headfirst slide.
He caught the Rockies napping and energized his dugout in an empty stadium late in a game that didn’t matter much in the standings with a combination of intelligence, feel and hustle few players have.
For 30-some Dodgers minor leaguers serving as an insurance policy against injuries, staying positive through monotonous workouts at USC is a challenge.
“You got [Mike] Trout, but I just don’t see anybody else in that category,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “That’s one of the better plays you’ll ever see.”
“Like, who does that?” Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw wondered.
The play was reminiscent of Betts’ final act as a member of the Boston Red Sox in the last game of the 2019 season. The Red Sox were a disappointment — they failed to qualify for the postseason after winning the World Series — but Betts scored the season finale’s winning run.
His immeasurable traits enamored the Dodgers as much as his numbers before they acquired him in February. By March, after his first impression wowed people at Camelback Ranch, the Dodgers began negotiating a contract extension. The pandemic delayed their 12-year extension until the day before the season opener in July.
Betts and Corey Seager have been the most consistent pieces for a Dodgers offense that led the majors in runs through Sunday despite down years from Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and Joc Pederson. In 50 games, Betts is batting .303 with 16 home runs, nine steals and a .973 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
“Obviously he’s leading the league in homers, he’s a great at-bat, doesn’t strikeout, runs the bases well, is like the best right fielder I’ve ever seen,” Kershaw said. “So, all that stuff, there’s a reason Andrew [Friedman] gave him 12 years. It’s going to be a special thing to watch for a long time.”
Betts finds himself in a close MVP race in the first of the 13 years under contract with less than a week left in the regular season. The other contenders include Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, San Diego Padres third baseman Manny Machado, and Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. Freeman leads the National League in several offensive categories. Machado and Tatis have been the best players on an exciting Padres club with the second-best record in the NL.
“I don’t pay any attention to it,” Betts said. “I’m just doing what I can to win a World Series. I am who I am. Those things, they come playing the game. You can’t think about those things and think about the game as well. I have one goal and that’s to win a World Series. And whatever comes, comes.”
With Mookie Betts and Chris Taylor out of the starting lineup, the Dodgers offense couldn’t muster enough offense to back starter Tony Gonsolin.
It would be Betts’ second MVP Award; he was named the American League winner in 2018. The Red Sox had the best record in the majors and went on to win the World Series at Dodger Stadium that season. Two years later, the Dodgers are hoping for a repeat with Betts as one of their own.
“I think anyone, whether it be a coach, a fan, a member of the media, can look at stats,” Roberts said, “but when you see a guy day in and day out and the impact he has a on a clubhouse, certainly, [he’s been] considerably better than I expected — and I had lofty goals anyway.”
The Dodgers reinstated outfielder Joc Pederson from the family medical emergency list Monday and optioned utility man Zach McKinstry, who went two for four in his first career start Sunday against the Rockies.
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