The Los Angeles Dodgers have played an incredible brand of baseball for the better part of the season, and much of their success has to do with the play of Mookie Betts at the top of the lineup.
Now in his fourth season with the Dodgers, Betts went into 2023 fresh off a 35 home run season, two consecutive All-Star Game selections, and a chip on his shoulder from an early playoff exit.
The front office brought in veteran slugger J.D. Martinez, Betts’ longtime teammate with the Boston Red Sox, to add right-handed power and a wealth of knowledge to the organization. His presence, alongside fellow master in the school of hitting, Freddie Freeman, has Betts in a uniquely opportune situation.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has shifted Betts around on the defensive end, mainly to maximize his skillset, but to also hone in his focus. Entering play on Wednesday, Betts has posted a 161 wRC+, fourth-best in baseball, numbers in which he credits to his teammates.
“Being with Freddie the last couple years, he’s definitely taught me not to give away at-bats,” Betts said following Wednesday’s win over the Milwaukee Brewers. “But I think the main person is J.D. He’s been the main one to just stay on me, no matter how good or bad I’m playing, how good we’re playing, what the score is. You’ve got to take your at-bat.”
Freeman’s 169 wRC+ is second is baseball, and Martinez ranks seventh in slugging percentage as he’s clubbed 50 extra-base hits in 384 plate appearances. Betts’ next comparable offensive season came in 2018 when he won American League MVP and the Red Sox stormed their way to a World Series title, and the duo of he and Martinez had everything to do with it.
The uptick in production from Betts is playing the best to his ability, and after a decent first half of the year, he’s gone even higher, batting .404/.469/.719 in the month of August.
Having to balance clubhouse culture with on-field production is a juggling act that isn’t analyzed enough, but having Martinez in this group, they’ve been vocal about their innate ability to come together.
“Yeah, for sure. From Day 1, I know I struggled early, but he stayed on me and he’s still staying on me now,” said Betts. “Having Freddie and those guys, they help not necessarily baseball-wise, but personal-wise. Just coming to the park, having fun laughing, joking.
“I think those things go a long way, especially when we’re in the sixth inning and we need a big hit right here. You know you’ve got your brothers cheering for you, and you want to do it for your brothers. Those guys definitely supply that for me, and J.D. has been staying on me a lot.”
Roberts mentioned that the offense in recent years has run through Betts and how he’s playing, but since Freeman was added to the mix in 2022, at-bat quality has been elevated across the board.
“I think he’s certainly locked in. I just think Freddie, and I mention him a lot, I think he’s set the bar for our entire offense. I think most players — they’re all human — and tend to give at-bats away at times if a game is out of bounds. But with Freddie, it’s not allowed,” Roberts said.
“He just doesn’t do it and I really believe Mookie takes what he sees from Freddie to heart. To me, this year, I haven’t seen him give away many at-bats. I think I’ve seen enough of him, that this year in particular is the least amount of at-bats he’s given away, and I think as a result he’s had a lot of success. And I do believe playing on the dirt more has kept him a little more sharp too.”
The Dodgers currently lead the National League West by a wide margin, and have a shot to push the league-leading Atlanta Braves for the best record in the NL. With a 22-8 record in the second half, they’ve shown no signs of slowing down now that some stability is arising amongst their starting pitchers.
How good has Mookie Betts been?
In the second half of the season, Betts has clubbed five homers, scored 26 runs, while posting a .438 on-base percentage. Of the 27 games played since August 14, he’s gone hitless just three times.
Betts has 11 multi-hit performances, all the while he’s been splitting time between both right field and second base. If not for Freeman and Ronald Acuña Jr., Betts would be on pace for another MVP Award.
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