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For Dodgers’ Seager and Bellinger, it’s 3rd Strike – or a Charm – in 2020

Young stars expected to anchor offense for years to come, crumble together in October.

LOS ANGELES, CA -OCTOBER 01: Cody Bellinger #35 of the Los Angeles Dodgers hugs teammate Corey Seager celebrates as the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Colorado Rockies 5-2 to win their sixth consecutive division championship during a National League West tiebreaker Major League Baseball game at Dodger Stadium on Monday, October 1, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/Digital First Media/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)

In the wake of the catastrophic first round exit for the Los Angeles Dodgers, there has been a flurry of debate over who to blame, and thus what parts of the organization’s philosophy must change. There’s Dave Roberts as manager, Clayton Kershaw’s continued postseason failings, and the likelihood of the front office going for more aggressive moves. The first will remain status quo, while the third could change if Andrew Friedman goes to Boston

All of these are tremendous concerns, and addressing them (or lack thereof) is a dealbreaker in whether or not Los Angeles finally wins it all in 2020. Yet these debates should not obscure another reason they came up short in 2019: the continued playoff embarrassment of young guns Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager.  

The tale of Belli and Seags in October is obviously brief, yet feels so much longer. Seager’s first trips were in 2015 and 2016, the former after just one month in the majors. In the latter, Seager managed two homers and three RBIs in the NLDS against Washington, and raised his average in the NLCS. 

In 2017, Bellinger stepped on the scene to power what was then the greatest team in L.A. history. However, the World Series proved a humbling experience for both of them. Seager, despite the hair-raising homer in game 2 and the go-ahead knock in game 6, struck out 9 times and hit .222. 

Bellinger did far, far worse. Despite helping a winning rally in game 4 and a three-run blast in game 5, his cumulative performance was dismal. He set a World Series record with 17 strikeouts, making for a postseason record of 29. Ouch. 

2018 marked both a step forward and step backwards for the duo. On the downside, Corey Seager’s Tommy John surgery ended his season early. Bellinger, meanwhile, took a big step forward in the NLCS. He disappeared again in the World Series (like the rest of the offense), but his improved defense and game-deciding hits earned him NLCS MVP. 

Thus, 2019 marked a convergence point.

Bellinger elevated his regular season play to MVP levels, thus raising expectations for a similar showing in October. Seager had a quietly solid year, and much publicity was drummed up about him being the healthiest he had ever been going into October. In a year where the team stormed to 106 wins, they seemed poised to become postseason Bash Brothers. 

For all intents and purposes, Bellinger might as well have been hitting below the Mendoza Line in 2019, and Seager as healthy as Tony Cingrani. It was as if it were the 2017 World Series all over again. Bellinger meekly flailed at pitches, looking like the opposite of an MVP candidate. Seager, meanwhile, resumed his act against Houston of dropping on a knee with every swing at a garbage inside pitch. 

The numbers are even uglier than the imagery. Seager’s final line for the 2019 NLDS comes to .150 with 8 strikeouts, just one fewer than his tally in the World Series two years ago. Unlike that series, though, he didn’t manage even a single RBI this time. Bellinger too failed to drive in a single run, hitting .211 and whiffing seven times. 

Thus, 2020 should be seen as a “make or break year” for these two. They’ve had two postseasons to go all the way together, and both times they’ve shriveled up in the spotlight. Just because they’re young marquee players doesn’t mean they should be expected to anchor the lineup every year if they keep failing in the playoffs. 

Given their insistence on staying with Roberts as manager, it feels somewhat hollow to insist the organization treat these two players with serious urgency in 2020. Given their youth and star power, they obviously have long futures in Dodger blue. I’m also not insisting they both be jettisoned if they don’t perform in the spotlight next year, either. (Although there is a case to be made for trading Seager right now, whether or not it’s the right move.)

Still, it is high time Bellinger and Seager fulfilled their potential. It was one thing for them to be quieted in 2017, which could be chalked up to their relative inexperience on the big stage. But they’re not the new kids in town anymore, and should be treated like veterans. 

On the other hand, if they finally put it together, it could be a dealbreaker in the Dodgers’ eternal quest to finally get over the hump. I agree with the consensus that Dave Roberts is a clueless playoff manager, and Clayton Kershaw a terrible playoff pitcher. But now, more than ever, the offense must share a comparable level of blame for the drought’s continuation.  

For three straight years, the Dodgers’ bats have disappeared in a way that’s beyond inexcusable. They were outslugged in two straight World Series, and now shriveled up enough to facilitate a first round departure. That won’t change if Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger don’t rise to the occasion. 

In 2020, they must change it once and for all. If they don’t, that trophy isn’t coming home. Period.

Written by Marshall Garvey

14 Comments

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  1. During the regular season the Dodgers dramatically improved what had been their bugaboo the past two seasons, RISP success. And credit appeared to be going to the new hitting “regime.” But then the NLDS was a major step back. Given the fact that WA pitchers have limited STL to two hits in two games, that could be some of it, but the entire approach just appeared off again. We waited a decade for Kershaw to “step up” in the post season and it never happened. We could be seeing something similar with Bellinger and Seager. It will be interesting if the FO (Friedman or not) continues to stay the course and expect a different result.

    • It was a great deal of it. Washington’s starting pitchers might be the best in baseball. Good pitching beats good hitting. That’s how the Dodgers did it in ’88. Speaking of ’88, this Nats team reminds me of them. This year the Dodgers were to the Nats what the Mets were to the Dodgers in ’88.

    • You know the more we talk about this, the more pissed off I get. With all the bad moves Dave Roberts made in Game 5, there was one huge mistake no one is talking about.

      1. Bottm 3rd, Bellinger at 2nd with one out. Instead of bunting, using hit and run to advance the runner, Beaty grounded out, followed by Seager striking out.

      2. Bottm 6th, Bellinger singled to first then stole second WITHOUT NO OUT, instead of bunting, what did Dave Roberts told his hitter to do? He instructed his hitters to hit. Beaty struck out, Seager struck out, Kike struck out. All they had to do was bunt twice, score the sure run, they would have won Game 5, 4 – 3. I mean it’s just common sense even baseball fans with average knowledge of the game understand.

      Time and time again this Dave Roberts made dumb, unforgiven mistakes that caused them to lose series. Now they bring him back for another year, are you kidding me? I get it mainly it was for financially reasons because the FO signed him to a 4 year extension last year, he’s got 3 more years to go on his contract, they don’t want to waste that money. But that’s not Dodgers fans’ problem, it’s the FO’s problem. Fire Dave Roberts now are there is going to be a boycott of the game from many Dodgers fans, including myself.

  2. Again Marshall I like your thought process as to direction Dodgers should go. Personally, I wouldn’t wait another year. I would make the moves you suggest this off season. One more catastrophic post season failure from Cody & Cory will severely diminish their value on the open market. I would argue that their market value is at its highest right now!
    My concern is that the Bellinger we saw in 2018 and the 2nd half of 2019 is the real Bellinger? Move him now while his first half production is fresh in everyone’s mind. My concern with Seager is his health. For a young man, he has been hurt far too many times. Reminds me of Troy Tulowitzki.

  3. It is hard to figure players who do well in the regular season, but then in playoff games seem to revert to misplaced AA ball players. To win it all a team needs some luck but also players who rise to the occasion. If you look back to the Dodger’s last WS win there were a number of those in the field and on the mound who were exemplary in clutch situations. Frankly, the current club has a number of players who seem to be incapable of performing well in the playoffs. Kershaw is probably the guy leading the parade but this year Cody and Cory along with Pollock just looked hopeless. I think if Freidman and Roberts stay then we can expect a repeat of patching up the rotation with patched up, pitchers, hoping Kenley gets divine intervention and watching Cody, Cory and company flail away. Let’s hope Pollock is gone, but unless the “psycho-cybernetic-analytic” horoscope calculations are right Freidman will do nothing.
    The club needs a shakeup starting at the top. Alternately, change the franchise name to the Bridesmaids.

  4. LA is spoiled! Great pitching, even good pitching will beat good hitting! Look what the Nat’s have done to St. Lewis so far! Ya there was too much hard swinging when a base hit would have been great but that will come with maturity.

    • Spoiled? No championship in 31 years. This is the 7th straight Dodgers team to fall short that could’ve won. People have every right to complain when a billion dollar ownership has a small market mentality and refusal to put our millions of dollars of fan money back into the glaring weaknesses of the team but instead put it towards renovations for their precious all star game which is also a money grab

  5. Last year and at the beginning of this year I said the Dodgers need at least 2 good starting pitchers and at least 2 good relievers. It was mentioned that the team was built on home run hitters. I think that was the first step in the wrong direction.This year and years before I said the team has to go back to some basics, some. those basics would have got them an edge on the competition.trying for a home run every time you got up to bat didn’t get that runner into scoring position. A bunt would have, a hit would have, any sacrifice would have. They had fast enough runners to be able to steal a base now and then. They didn’t do much of that either. You have to keep the opponent wondering what you’re going to do next. Keep them on edge. If you do things like that in the first part of the season you’ll keep them guessing all year long. Stealing bases isn’t just how fast you are but knowing when and knowing how to read the pitcher. The Dodgers have the tools and know the people that can help them with this. Whoever those 2 guys were in the dugout giving information did help but not enough. Wake up Management and Roberts. Do everything that has to be done to get over the bad hump. I’m a long-time Dodgers fan, I mean very long time but I’m getting to the point where I’m not going to jump every time I see that the Dodgers will be on T V.

    • Ruben, i agree here except remember there is the other side of it and that the pitching staff, especially in the playoffs and WS must do better at keeping the baseball in the yard. In this year’s NLDS, Dodgers hit 8 HR’s and the Nats hit 5, which does not look bad on paper but the Nats gave the Dodgers a taste of their own medicine to win the series.

  6. I believe, half way thru the season the Dodgers walked more, struck out less than any other NL team while still leading the league in Home runs. They gradually started walking less and striking out more through out the second half, while still setting a team and NL home run record. It’s a fact if they decreased their launch angle somewhat, there swing would be in the zone longer and they would strike out less. I have no doubt they could become a .275 average for the team, and their offense would be much better and consistent. They might even hit as many homers.

  7. I do not blame the manager. He plays the cards he has. Players get paid to execute. Kershaw should retire NOW. He has been the Pitcher of the Generation, and should not tarnish his record by staying. Corey had surgeries, and never looked dangerous at the plate this year. But Bellinger is a problem. He cannot continue to stink up the post season. Excellence is demonstrated on the big stage, not versus the Padres in June. Bellinger looks consistently awful in October. Whatever it is, he swings like a little girl in the post season. Unacceptable. He should be fined every time his back knee touches the ground on a swing, or every time he swings at a low pitch crossing the opposite batters box. Enough is enough.

  8. This is not a championship driven organization, their so accustom to loosing it’s already in their blood. Wow… they give Roberts credit for winning one of the easiest divisions in baseball full or rebuilding teams. Congratulations. LOL!!!

  9. People need to stop talking about Bellinger and Seager as if they choked or made them lose. Young players who haven’t even been in the league three full years grow like the rest of them have. SMH

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