LOS ANGELES -- As the calendar turns to June, the Dodgers aren’t exactly in a unexpected position. Through Saturday, the favorites to win the National League West are in first place in their division at 35-18, three games ahead of the Padres in the standings.
That said, there have been some surprises in their journey to this point. Here are three takeaways from the Dodgers’ first two months of the season:
1. Betts has found it, and how
Remember earlier this year when Mookie Betts hadn’t quite gotten going yet? That seems like ages ago, thanks to his torrid May. Betts ended April with a .230 batting average, a .731 OPS and just three homers; in May, he posted a .342 average and a 1.157 OPS, and he went yard 12 times. Through Saturday, Betts is tied for the NL lead in home runs with 16.
This sure looks more like the real Mookie, and his manager thinks it’s possible we could see something close to this level of production for the rest of the season.
“I think the thing with Mookie that’s most sustainable, which makes him elite … is that when his posture’s right, when his mechanics are right, he controls the strike zone,” said Dave Roberts. “He understands the value of taking a walk when needed, but if it’s in the strike zone, he can put a good swing on it. So I think that, as long as he stays kind of right there where he’s at, I don’t see how anything will change.”
Indeed, June hasn’t looked much different for Betts so far. Through four games, he’s 8-for-18. And while he’s not doing it alone -- the Dodgers rank towards the top of most of baseball’s offensive categories -- Betts is certainly doing an outstanding job setting the tone as one of the best tablesetters the franchise has ever had.
2. The rotation has had two unexpected heroes
An April poll of MLB.com contributors predicted Walker Buehler to win the 2022 NL Cy Young Award. Expectations were also high for Julio Urías, 2021’s only 20-game winner. Clayton Kershaw was looking like his vintage self before landing on the injured list with right SI joint inflammation in mid-May.
When told this, Gonsolin’s reaction was a modest one.
“I was trying to inch my way back to being a qualified starter [by innings pitched], so it feels pretty good knowing that I’m there,” said Gonsolin.
As for Anderson, he’s been on a roll lately. He put up six zeros against the Mets on Friday, extending his scoreless streak to 26 innings, tied with the Yankees’ Clay Holmes for the longest in MLB this year, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“In terms of the [coaching] staff and stuff we’ve done, we haven’t really changed a whole lot,” Anderson said when asked what he’s done differently since joining the Dodgers. “Really, I just feel like they’ve had a lot of trust in me and what I do and the pitches I throw.”
The injuries to Kershaw and Andrew Heaney seriously tested L.A.’s starting depth, causing the No. 5 rotation spot to be an amalgamation of Ryan Pepiot, Michael Grove and Mitch White. So Gonsolin and Anderson developing into reliable No. 3 and 4 starters hasn’t just been a pleasant surprise -- it’s been essential.
3. Kimbrel has struggled, but is a fix in sight?
Craig Kimbrel’s first two months as the Dodgers’ closer were shaky, despite the fact that he went 10-for-10 in converting saves before finally blowing an opportunity on Monday. In 15 April and May appearances, he had a 4.80 ERA with a 1.40 WHIP, and he allowed baserunners in all but three of those appearances.
Roberts pointed to certain mechanical issues for Kimbrel, describing the right-hander’s delivery as being too “rotational” and saying that the club was trying to get him to “be more linear towards home plate.” And as the Dodgers get more familiar with Kimbrel, it should become easier for them to get on the same page about what he needs to do to return to All-Star form.
“That’s the great thing about having a great player and a veteran player, because there’s a track record,” said Roberts. “But the hard part is you have to give them some leash to trust that [with] what they’ve done, they’ve figured some things out, and you don’t want to come in too hot, essentially. But I think we’ve seen enough and we’ve built enough trust with Craig to now offer our thoughts, and he’s been receptive.”
One interesting technique the Dodgers have considered to help Kimbrel is a “dig me” reel, which is a highlight compilation of a player’s best moments throughout his career, aimed at boosting his confidence.
“Hey, we all need ‘dig me’ videos, man,” said Roberts. “Guys like to feel good about themselves.”