Dodgers 'can't say enough' of Betts' impact

October 6th, 2020

A talent deficit has never been the issue for the Dodgers, but that didn’t stop president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman from pursuing a superstar that he hoped could finally put Los Angeles over the edge in October.

The hunt for a difference-maker spanned nearly the entire offseason, testing the patience of a restless fanbase yearning for the club’s first World Series title since 1988. Friedman was outbid for Gerrit Cole, who preferred to sign with the Yankees. Anthony Rendon spurned overtures from the Dodgers before landing with the Angels. Trade talks with the Indians about Francisco Lindor ultimately fizzled.

But shortly before Spring Training, a blockbuster deal finally materialized, bringing 2018 American League MVP Award winner to Los Angeles. In Betts, Friedman and the Dodgers saw not only a supremely gifted outfielder, but also an exacting teammate who could help raise the bar for everyone around him. It was arguably the type of jolt the Dodgers needed following their first-round playoff exit to the eventual champion Nationals last year.

“I think in years past, we’ve had great teams,” left-hander Clayton Kershaw said. “We’ve had a lot of guys come up in big situations. We also haven’t won the whole thing yet. I’m hopeful that this year is different, and Mookie will definitely be a big difference why.”

Betts, who affirmed his commitment to the Dodgers by signing a 12-year, $365 million extension in July, hasn’t disappointed in his first year with his new club. After delivering an MVP-caliber performance during the regular season, Betts has continued to make his impact felt in October, the stage the Dodgers envisioned him starring on when they acquired him from the Red Sox.

The 27-year-old drove in three of the Dodgers’ seven runs during their sweep of the Brewers in the National League Wild Card Series, finishing 3-for-7 with three doubles over two games. The Dodgers will now face a stiffer test in a best-of-five NL Division Series against the Padres, who came up short in their own pursuit of Betts over the offseason.

“I didn’t have much of a choice when I came here, but obviously, I’m here for good now,” Betts said. “I’m just happy to be a part of what’s going on here. I’m just here to plug and play. These guys have been doing it for years now. I’m just hopping on board.”

With Max Muncy, Justin Turner and Will Smith enduring slow starts to the postseason, the Dodgers will once again lean on Betts to set the tone atop the lineup during their matchup against the Padres. It’s a role Betts has embraced since day one.

When he reported to Arizona for Spring Training in February, Betts addressed the Dodgers during their first team meeting and asked each of his new teammates to hold themselves accountable and play with urgency regardless of the circumstances. His words resonated because his credentials were impossible to refute. Betts won a World Series title with the Red Sox in 2018 -- beating the Dodgers -- and he made it clear that his goal in Los Angeles was to earn rings -- not singular, but plural.

“Everything about him, I love,” manager Dave Roberts said. “He’s definitely as good as advertised. He comes prepared and ready to play, whether it’s Spring Training, whether it’s Summer Camp, whether it’s regular season, whether it’s postseason, which is a credit to him.”

Betts’ leadership has filtered through in other ways as well, including his influence on teammates like Austin Barnes. After stumbling out to a 2-for-22 start to the season, Barnes received hitting advice from Betts, who offered feedback that helped spark an offensive turnaround for the 30-year-old catcher.

“I can’t say enough about him and what he’s doing in the clubhouse,” Barnes said in August. “He’s helped me tremendously. I don’t know if he wants it all out there. He kind of wants it under the radar, but he’s helped me swinging-wise. He really has. He’s helped me in the cage. He’s been there in the cage with me, watching me swing. That kind of just shows you what kind of teammate he is, to take time out of his day to help someone else. He’s been great.”

While Betts has become known for his metronomic consistency at the plate, his five-tool ability also enables him to be a game-changer outside of the batter’s box. Case in point: the incredible 305-foot throw he made from the right-field corner to nail Ketel Marte at third base during a game against the D-backs at Chase Field on Aug. 1.

Still, the Dodgers are hoping Betts will be able to help them add a bigger highlight to their 2020 reel: a World Series championship.

“Mookie kind of separates himself with the consistency and the other things he can do on the baseball field if he happens not to be getting hits,” Kershaw said. “There’s also a confidence there. There’s a really calming influence there. It’s just expected that we’re going to win and you feed off that, not necessarily by what he says but by the way he carries himself. It’s awesome. Thankfully, he’s on our team.”