When the Dodgers acquired Mookie Betts in February 2020, the former MVP found it difficult to acclimate to his new team and to an unfamiliar environment.
Being traded from the only team he had played for, moving to a part of the country he didn’t want to be in, and with the COVID-19 pandemic preventing any baseball activities, it was hard for Betts to find his footing in Los Angeles.
His statistics in the batter’s box reflected the unease Betts felt in his first three years as a Dodger. While he was the runner-up to the MVP award in his first year with Los Angeles— behind future teammate Freddie Freeman— Betts underperformed to his standards in the two following seasons. Betts averaged 132 games played per season, slashing .267/.352/.513 with 29 home runs, 70 RBI, and a 133 OPS+.
What has helped Betts feel more acclimated to the team this season compared to the first three has been the need for him to become a leader and a voice on the team, rather than just showing up to the field, putting in the work, and then promptly leaving afterwards.
Juan Toribio of MLB.com has more on Mookie’s leadership this season, helping him be propelled as the new face of the Dodgers:
“His focus was no longer on playing a game and going home. Despite being a soft-spoken guy, contrary to popular belief, Betts became one of the loudest voices in the room... It might have taken more time than some expected, but Betts is happy again and ready to lead the Dodgers to another World Series title.”
Clayton Kershaw was the one pitcher from the opening day rotation to be on the postseason roster this season. He led the team in innings, wins, and strikeouts among other categories and was named an All Star for the tenth time in his career. One thing that has remained a constant throughout his career is his underperformance in the postseason.
Bob Nightengale of USA Today writes about Kershaw’s impact on the team this year and his postseason career, which has seen noticeable improvement since the Dodgers title run in 2020.
“Too often he struggled in a game the Dodgers counted on him to win. His pedestrian 13-12 record and 4.22 ERA in the postseason speak to the low moments... Kershaw made sure the narrative shifted in 2020 as he led the Dodgers to the World Series championship. Since the start of that postseason he has gone 4-1 in the playoffs with a 2.93 ERA.”
Last night’s start was reminiscent of Kershaw’s early struggles in the postseason, as he allowed six runs on six hits to the Arizona Diamondbacks, failing to escape the first inning.
The Arizona Diamondbacks were one of the quickest teams on the base paths this season, stealing 166 bases and ranking second in all of baseball for team stolen bases. The D-Backs ran rampant against the Dodgers in the first week of the regular season, but were unable to run against them when they faced in August. J.P. Hoornstra of the Orange County Register writes about the Dodgers fooling the D-Backs’ running game, and how it might play out in the NLDS.
Brandon Scott of Bleacher Report lists an X-factor for each of the remaining eight teams in the postseason, naming Will Smith as the Dodgers’ X-factor. Scott listed Merrill Kelly as the Arizona’s X-factor, and it proved with his shutout performance last night, netting his first career win against the Dodgers.