Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Dodgers lost first baseman Adrian Gonzalez due to a herniated disc. In the recent past, Dodgers fans would have been worried about their team's ability to repeat as National League West champions because Gonzalez had been the Dodgers' main run producer since coming over from the Boston Red Sox in August 2012. Not this year.
Of course, losing Gonzalez for a significant amount of time is a blow, but the emergence of Cody Bellinger softens the impact. No one in the Dodgers organization expected the 21-year-old Bellinger to contribute until the late stages of the season.
Since the cool, rainy night in San Francisco when Bellinger made his debut April 25, the Dodgers have the best record in the Major Leagues. The offense has become potent and consistent. Bellinger has contributed offensively and defensively.
Bellinger has been projected as a future Gold Glove-caliber first baseman, but he can play left and center field, too. When Alvin Toles tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in early May, it opened the door for Bellinger. The rookie has played brilliantly in left, and Wednesday against the Cleveland Indians, Bellinger made a magnificent play at first base.
Although his defense has helped the Dodgers win, his offense is what catches the headlines. Bellinger earned the NL Rookie of the Month award in May. He has hit the most home runs in the Majors since his promotion. Many of Bellinger's 18 homers have come after the sixth inning. He has had four multi-homer games, and entered Friday's game batting .254.
Other than Bellinger, the Dodgers have two other young players who have helped provide a spark.
Chris Taylor had an excellent Spring Training, but he didn't make the Opening Day roster since he couldn't play the outfield as well as Enrique Hernandez. When John Forsythe broke his right big toe April 18, the Dodgers promoted Taylor. Spending the offseason revamping his swing to generate more power, Taylor has had many important hits for the Dodgers, including two grand slams. When Joc Pederson went on the disabled list again with head and neck injuries, Taylor played the unfamiliar center field position where he made a few spectacular catches to preserve wins for the Dodgers.
Hernandez, who is coming off a bad 2016 season while dealing with his father battling cancer, has rebounded offensively. He attributes participating in the World Baseball Classic for renewing his love for the game and his competitive spirit. He has displayed unusual power while having a better-than-average knowledge of the strike zone. On Sunday, he had a 13-pitch at-bat that ended in a walk and helped set up the first career grand slam by Corey Seager. On Wednesday, Hernandez blasted a go-ahead opposite-field solo home run.
These unexpected heroes on the Dodgers have propelled them to play up to their lofty expectations, but the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks are on their heels.
This season the NL West is what a baseball fan should watch if he wants to see fantastic play.