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Cody Bellinger’s elite defense is keeping him in the lineup

Bellinger’s glove work hasn’t wavered through all of his hitting struggles

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MLB: San Diego Padres at Los Angeles Dodgers Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

The Dodgers have the top offense in baseball. A lineup spearheaded by Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, and Freddie Freeman averaged 5.2 runs per game during the regular season, and their performance in the postseason will dictate a lot about how far this team will go, with expectations very high.

However, a hallmark of a great offense it’s in the depth that it has, and the ability to hurt any pitcher at any time, regardless of who’s up at the plate.

Through two NLDS games there’s been some pushback towards the bottom of the order, and in particular struggling centerfielder Cody Bellinger. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Dave Roberts went with Trayce Thompson and Cody Bellinger in the outfield, batting eighth and ninth.

Thompson and Bellinger have combined for one hit in the series, and that came on a Bellinger dump shot to left field that came on a defensive swing, in an at-bat that didn’t look particularly promising for the one-time NL MVP.

But Bellinger did make this play, robbing Austin Nola of a likely two-run double in the sixth inning of Game 2.

With the options that Roberts has in this postseason, the hard fact is that even if you’re resigned to the notion that this is who Bellinger is at this point — a .210/.265/.389, 83-wRC+ hitter during the regular season — and any sort of meaningful and consistent offensive production is nothing more than a distant hope, there’s still not a lot criticize with continuing to start Bellinger.

Bellinger is currently the Dodgers’ number nine hitter. These are not the struggles of someone batting cleanup for an offense used to relying on him like it was a couple of years back.

Normally in baseball, the production from your nine-hole hitter won’t be anything to write home about, and although the Dodgers have kind of set a higher standard for lineup depth with as many options as the front office has accumulated in recent years, looking at the total package, Bellinger is probably still the best option.

If Roberts decides to make a change and bench Bellinger against right-handed pitchers as well as southpaws, he’d be left with a few different choices.

First would be to start Chris Taylor in left field, and move Thompson to center. [Editor’s note: Roberts said Wednesday he would do exactly this, with Bellinger not starting against Blake Snell in Game 3]

But even putting aside the fact that Roberts’ deferred to Austin Barnes in a big pinch-hitting spot against Josh Hader in the bottom of the eighth of Game 2 with Taylor and Miguel Vargas available, putting in question the true status of Taylor and his current hitting ability, even so, Taylor is coming off a rough year, and is probably just a Bellinger-esque bat with worse defensive skills.

Chris Taylor had a 35.2 strikeout rate in 2022.

The same sort of goes for Joey Gallo in a lot of ways, and if we were to look at Vargas, ignoring the pressure of inserting a player with so few at-bats into a postseason starting role, the Dodgers’ highly-rated prospect can look to Gavin Lux last year and into this season to see how long the transition to outfield can take.

In the end, the defensive ability of Bellinger is the best single trait any single occupant of the Dodgers number nine lineup role can provide.