First to 40 blasts, Bellinger trying not to count

August 16th, 2019

MIAMI -- admits it’s hard not to keep tabs on the home run race, which he currently finds himself in the thick of with 39 games remaining in the season.

Bellinger set a new career high with his 40th homer of the season while also temporarily taking over the Major League lead in Thursday's 13-7 Dodgers loss to the Marlins at Marlins Park. Fellow MVP Award candidate Mike Trout later tied him atop the leaderboard, hitting his 40th against the White Sox. Brewers star Christian Yelich and Mets rookie Pete Alonso each have 39.

“I wouldn't say it's putting any more pressure to hit homers,” said Bellinger, who became the youngest player in Dodgers history to reach the 40-homer mark at 24 years old. “I'm just trying to stay within myself every day and keep going.”

That appears to be a theme with these slugging Dodgers, who rank first in the National League and third in the Majors with 211 long balls. In the process, they’re setting records left and right.

With taters from Kyle Garlick, Max Muncy and Corey Seager, the Dodgers set a franchise record with 14 homers in a three-game series. They also became the first team since at least 1908 to hit four-plus home runs in four straight games.

That slugging prowess means no game is out of reach. When Bellinger turned on a 1-2 fastball from Austin Brice for a three-run shot to right field in the seventh inning, it further trimmed the Dodgers’ deficit, which had been as much as nine runs. In the ninth, Los Angeles loaded the bases with two outs in a six-run ballgame, though the damage ended there.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts calls the lineup “relentless,” and Bellinger is the embodiment of it. Look no further than his progression -- from 2017 when he was the NL Rookie of the Year Award winner, to ’18 when his numbers dipped, to now.

Though Bellinger didn’t set expectations heading into the season, his numbers have become elite. Across Statcast metrics, he ranks in the top percentiles in categories such as hard-hit percentage, outs above average and sprint speed.

“I was feeling good in Spring Training, but Spring Training is whatever, so you just try to carry that into the regular season,” said Bellinger, who is slugging .664 with a 1.080 OPS. “It's just a grind every single day. I didn't really set any goals, just trying to go and play the game.”

When asked earlier in the week about the most pleasant surprise so far during the Dodgers' 2019 season, president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman took a few seconds before mentioning their MVP Award candidate.

“I think the step forward that Belli's made,” Friedman said. “Obviously, incredibly talented player who’s had a lot of success, but for him to take that other big step forward has been awesome. Just the maturation that we've seen over the offseason into this year, we think it's a big contributing factor to that.”

Bellinger showcased all of his tools during the three-game series in Miami. Earlier in Thursday’s game, he stole his 10th base of the season. In Wednesday’s victory, he beat the shift with a bunt base hit. Bellinger saw time at three different positions.

“He's a special player, when you think about it,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “This guy plays center. He plays first. He's a really good outfielder. He can steal a bag. He has power. The whole thing. It's a different look. He does everything. When you're talking about one of the top guys in the league, they're guys that can do that. It's not just home runs. It's not just average. It's a little bit of everything.”