Dodgers: Appreciating The Postseason Growth of Cody Bellinger
After the impossible dream revisited was revisited on October 27th, 2020, so much has been documented and celebrated with our Los Angeles Dodgers. Clayton Kershaw’s legacy finally cemented with a ring. Walker Buehler’s continued World Series dominance. Mookie Betts being Mookie Betts. There has been no postscript that has not been touched.
Except for perhaps one, in my mind.
The growth of Cody Bellinger in the postseason. After the Dodgers agreed to pay Cody Bellinger 16.1 million for 2021, I felt this was appropriate.
2017: Beginner’s Muck
Cody’s 17 strikeouts and .143 average in the 2017 World Series were a tough thing to witness. There was a lot that was hard to watch that series, but Cody’s struggles with pitches down and in clearly showed his rookie status. He even looked uncharacteristically sloppy in the field, rushing plays and making a few poor choices with the glove. When he had a huge hit in game four, everyone saw the relief on his face. It was a struggle, but after hitting 39 home runs in less than a full season for the rookie, it was probably a lot to expect from him. Still, these struggles would follow him.
2018: Sophomore Struggles
In 2018 he had zero hits in the NLDS in four games. Cody had a much better NLCS, though. Despite only hitting .200 (batting averages are expected to be lower in most playoff scenarios though) he had very timely hits, including a walk-off single in game four, a huge two-run homer in game 7, and stellar defense throughout the series. No bigger defensive moment than a diving catch off the bat of Lorenzo Cain in extra innings was made from Belli, though. It was good enough of a series to net him an NLCS MVP. Only Yasiel Puig had a larger cWPA that series, so the award could have arguably gone to him, but Bellinger certainly earned it.
The World Series was rough for most Dodger hitters to be fair, but Bellinger reverted to his struggles going just 1-16 in the 2018 World Series.
This series never happened after this moment, right? Got it.
2020: Cody’s Biggest Moments
Enough about struggles, right? In the NLDS against San Diego, Cody slashed .333/.429/.750 with an OPS of 1.179. Granted that was in 3 short games, as the Padres were not able to make much of a series for the Dodgers. This home run was particularly fun, as Bellinger went full Boys 2 Men and got down on bended knee for this home run against Zach Davies.
I love that home run so much. Reminds me of those old Adrian Beltre swings.
This home run was great, but everybody knows the most memorable moment of that series, and certainly for Cody Bellinger. Here it is in all its glory.
Cody Bellinger has always been a good defender, but this was other-worldly. This is definitely a play that will live forever. Between his defense and timely hitting, the NLDS was a good start for the 2020 Cody Bellinger arc.
NLCS Cody Bellinger
Seven games is a much larger sample size and while a .200/.355/.520 slash line might not seem like much, Cody Bellinger did not shrink when the moments mattered in the NLCS. I particularly enjoyed at the end of game two. Cody Bellinger hit a triple off Mark Melancon and showed a lot of emotion afterward. Emotionally, that was the moment it felt like the Dodgers woke up. In game 3, he made a leaping grab near the center field wall. Throughout all of Cody’s postseason struggles, as they say, defense never slumps.
Clutch situations in the playoffs can be random, but game seven was the first time I had ever seen Cody Bellinger in the playoffs look like he owned the moment, not a moment happening to him. Look at the go-ahead home run in game seven.
That bat drop gets me every time. Watching it live, I did not expect Cody to hit that. That won the game and finished the series. Seeing that moment — that Cody Bellinger — that was not the same guy who struck out 17 times in the 2017 World Series.
World Series Cody
Cody struggled to hit in the 2020 World Series, hampered by a nagging shoulder dislocated by Kiké Hernandez and later surgically repaired in the offseason. Still, he had some big moments, particularly this one in the series opener.
It wasn’t so much that this got the Dodgers on the board for the first runs of the World Series, though that was important. There was something in this home run that had never happened before with Cody. That fastball from 98.2 mph fastball from Tyler Glasnow was the hardest pitch Cody Bellinger has ever homered on in his entire career. That includes all post and regular season games. Not only was it pure heat, it was on the inner half of the plate. That showed tremendous growth. Cody struggled through much of the rest of the series, but he still played elite defense.
On the strength of a few legendary plays, Cody Bellinger showed tremendous growth from where he started just a few short years ago. It may sound like an over-sell to call those plays legendary, but they are the kind of plays you see replayed for generations.
Dodger fans are surprisingly spoiled with our riches. Mookie Betts, Clayton Kershaw, Corey Seager, and Cody Bellinger. It is important to appreciate the growth of these players before we forget, and the moment passes.
What Does The Future Hold?
Playoff performance it’s been said, is a spin of a roulette wheel. The best players can go cold whereas the mighty mites often step out out of nowhere. The randomness of it can be maddening.
For playoff performances, all a player can hope for is the confidence at the plate that existed during the regular season. Cody Bellinger will be heading into his fifth season if you can believe it, which makes him a veteran. The Dodgers have been to the postseason every year that Cody has been a major league ball player, and have been to the World Series three times in those years. Young phenom Cody Bellinger is now a World Series veteran. His stellar defense and game changing-hits in the playoffs sure make it seem like his playoff success has only just started. Until we see what happens, let us enjoy Cody, ahem, riding high.