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.
In 31 postseason games (118 AB's), Corey Seager has a .203 avg, 12R's & 10RBI. Bellinger 36 games (135 AB's) has a .178 avg, 17R's & 13RBI. And you ask why I refer to them as the CHOKE BROTHERS? This is why I would consider trading both. They are not money players.
— The Real HollywoodG (@GenerosoBaruch) October 12, 2019
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.