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Column: Mookie Betts is playing at his peak. Will he sustain it through October?

Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts runs off the field during the fourth inning.
Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts runs off the field during the fourth inning Sunday at Dodger Stadium. Betts’ two-run homer in the third helped the Dodgers win 4-0 over San Diego for a series sweep.
(Allison Dinner / Associated Press)
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The rhetoric is the same.

Mookie Betts still downplays his importance to the Dodgers. He still won’t acknowledge the oversized influence he has on games. He still won’t make any predictions about what he might or might not do.

Don’t be alarmed, however, by what sounds like an effort by the $365-million outfielder to skirt responsibility.

Betts has changed, manager Dave Roberts said.

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“I see a concerted effort on every pitch in the batter’s box now,” Roberts said.

The first-place Dodgers beat the Padres 4-0 on Sunday to cap a three-game sweep and open a seven-game lead over third-place San Diego in the division.

May 14, 2023

The ability of Betts to perform at the level he has over the last two-plus weeks isn’t in question. Betts delivered again Sunday, his sixth homer in 15 games sending the Dodgers on their way to a sweep-sealing, 4-0 victory over the dysfunctional San Diego Padres.

Betts has played like this before, and he’ll play like this again.

What remains a mystery is whether Betts can sustain his recent form, whether he can be more consistent and eliminate the extended periods in which he is a nonfactor. He isn’t making any promises.

“I’d like to,” Betts said, “but no telling what’s going to happen.”

Betts finished with a career-high 35 homers last year, but his season was marked by a lack of consistency. He was spectacular in May and again in late August only to have a minimal offensive impact during the rest of the season.

He collected just two hits against the Padres in a National League Division Series, which the Dodgers lost in four games.

Mookie Betts flies out in the fifth inning Sunday at Dodger Stadium.
(Allison Dinner / Associated Press)

Betts started this season similar to how he finished his last, as he was batting .233 through April 27.

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In the 15 games since: .281 batting average, six homers, 14 runs batted in.

The Dodgers are 13-2 in those games.

“He’s certainly getting big hits,” Roberts said. “Superstars play big in big moments, and he’s doing that for us.”

The big moment in the series finale against the Padres came in the third inning when Betts deposited a changeup by Ryan Weathers into the left-field pavilion to move the Dodgers in front 2-0. The homer was Betts’ ninth of the season.

“I feel like every time he’s hitting, he’s hitting homers,” said pitcher Tony Gonsolin, who pitched five scoreless innings to earn his first win of the season.

The victory was the Dodgers’ fifth in six games against the Padres, who are more and more resembling an overpriced version of the football team that bolted their small-market town.

The mother of Clayton Kershaw died on Saturday. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said the plan is for Kershaw to pitch Tuesday against the Twins.

May 14, 2023

The soft-spoken Betts did what he could to minimize the adjustments he has made.

“Just to get strikes and hit them,” he said. “I was chasing a lot, not really giving myself the best chances. So, just been focusing on swinging at good pitches.”

He visited the Driveline training center in Washington state over the offseason, which convinced him to gain strength in order to better withstand the demands of a 162-game season. Of the eight pounds of muscle he added, he said: “I’m stronger for sure, but I don’t know if it’s making me a better baseball player or anything. I’m just stronger.”

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Betts also rejected Roberts’ often-voiced opinion that when he goes, the Dodgers go.

“No, not at all,” Betts said. “Obviously, I gotta do my part in scoring runs and getting on base, but it’s not just me. We all gotta do it. It’s not only on me. We gotta have the young guys, the vets, everybody. It’s a team effort to win a baseball game.”

Betts isn’t Clayton Kershaw. He isn’t Shohei Ohtani. He isn’t a player who will shoulder a disproportionate share of the blame for a team’s collective failure.

The measured perspective was consistent with how Betts has approached the game in his four seasons with the Dodgers. Before the Dodgers were eliminated in the playoffs last year, Betts said, “It’s not like you can get hyped to go run through a wall.”

The comment was widely interpreted as a sign that Betts lacked the necessary urgency to reverse the deficit in the series, especially after the Dodgers were knocked out by the Padres.

But Roberts said he has noticed Betts striving to play with an elevated intensity this year.

“It’s hard with certain guys because they’re all trying,” Roberts said, “but there’s an extra level of focus that, I think, at times, he doesn’t always have. It’s hard when you play every single day. We understand that. But he’s clearly a big part of what we’re doing and when he’s competing like he’s competing on every pitch, there aren’t too many better on the planet.”

Maintaining that focus could be critical to the Dodgers, who don’t have as many weapons as they did when they won a franchise-record 111 games last season. On most nights, they have Betts, Freddie Freeman, Will Smith and no other consistent threat. And there are days like Sunday, when their lineup was further shortened because Smith was given a day off.

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Regardless of whether Betts acknowledges it, he will have to play like this more often. These Dodgers can’t afford to have him disappear for months at a time, as he did last year.

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