WASHINGTON -- It was supposed to be a scheduled off-day for Dodgers superstar Mookie Betts as the team navigates through one of its toughest stretches of the season. But after Cody Bellinger reported not feeling well, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts ran over to Betts and asked if he would be available to start.
Knowing that the Dodgers are operating with a short bench, Betts gave the team the thumbs up. That turned out to be bad news for the Nationals, as the former American League MVP continued his month-long tear at the plate, smashing two homers in the Dodgers’ 9-4 win on Tuesday at Nationals Park.
Behind Betts’ hot bat, the Dodgers have won nine of their last 10 games.
"He’s playing MVP-type baseball. He really is,” said Roberts. “That’s where it’s starting, and after that guys are just following. It’s all about Mookie right now. He’s just carrying us right now and playing excellent baseball.”
In his first at-bat, Betts got a hold of a Josiah Gray four-seam fastball, but it was caught just shy of the warning track. In his next two at-bats, Betts didn’t miss his pitches, smacking a three-run homer in the second on a Gray slider and a solo jack in the fourth off Victor Arano, also on a slider.
“Just having fun and enjoying the game, man, and taking it one pitch and one at-bat at a time,” Betts said. “I’m just laughing and joking and really sitting back and enjoying it.”
Betts, who is tied with Johnny Mize and Sammy Sosa for most three-homer games in Major League history (six), had a pair of tries to break the record, but the star outfielder settled for a single and walk in those two plate appearances. Betts did, however, tie George Springer for second all-time with 18 multi-homer games out of the leadoff spot. He’s just one shy of tying Alfonso Soriano.
“It feels like everything he hits is an extra-base hit,” said Dodgers shortstop Trea Turner, who also homered on Tuesday. “Even his outs are loud. He got out one time tonight, and his first at-bat probably should have been a homer too. Just the consistency, man. It’s really good, really special.”
The Dodgers have come to expect great performances out of Betts during this stretch. He has been one of the best hitters in the Majors over the last 24 days. His two-week slump to begin the season now feels like a lifetime ago. Betts has credited his success to a change in his mentality from last season and “having more fun.” Being fully recovered from a nagging hip injury that affected him has also helped.
In May, Betts has played at a different level, batting .345. With his two homers on Tuesday, he now has nine long balls this month, the most by anybody in the National League. He’s now also atop the NL in homers this season with 12. That’s even more impressive when you consider that Betts was held without a home run until a two-homer performance against the Padres on April 22.
After that game, Betts said it felt good to know that he “could still do it,” referring to his power. That has turned out to be quite the understatement. In his last four games, Betts is now 9-for-15 (.600) with four homers and 10 RBIs. Betts has also scored at least one run in 12 consecutive games, tying Rafael Furcal for the longest streak since the franchise moved to Los Angeles.
“It’s ridiculous,” Turner said about Betts’ run streak. “That’s a lot of runs for the amount of games we’ve played. That shows you how much he’s getting on base, how many times he’s putting himself in scoring position, how many times he’s driving himself in. It’s a lot of things. For me, those runs say it all.”
The Dodgers saw a glimpse of what Betts was capable of during his strong 2020 season. Many believe that adding Betts to the fold was what ultimately helped the Dodgers get over the hump and snap their 32-year World Series drought. But given that his production that season came during a 60-game schedule, the Dodgers are looking forward to seeing just how much he’ll be able to provide during a full season.
They’re getting a pretty good look at the real Mookie Betts right now.
“Over the last 30 days, it’s as good as anybody on the planet. It’s as good as I’ve seen him,” Roberts said. “He’s scoring runs at a crazy clip. He’s on base. He’s slugging at a ridiculous clip, too. And he’s playing Gold Glove defense too. He’s making the game look a lot easier than it is.”