The Rays off script, the Dodgers on top

Clayton Kershaw opened the 2020 World Series with more than a flourish.

Somehow, no matter what the pandemic threw down in baseball’s way, we managed to arrive at the World Series. Somehow, the game’s 99 Cent Store from Tampa Bay bumped, pole vaulted, and sky dove to a Series against the game’s Amazon from Los Angeles.

In Globe Life Field, the brand-new playpen of the Texas Rangers. Where the turf is artificial, the roof makes it resemble the hangar for a Boeing 747, and you can just can all the hoo-ha about the wonders of a neutral-site World Series.

The Dodgers entered with a sort-of home field advantage.They’ve been playing at Globe Life from their National League division series forward. With the pandemic-inspired divisional geography schedule on the irregular season, the Rays never got to play the Rangers even once.

They’ve been been playing there from their division series forward. With the pandemic-inspired divisional geography schedule this irregular season, the Rays never got to play the Rangers even once. And the Dodgers sure took advantage of that inadvertent home-field advantage of a sort Tuesday night.

They waited out a hard labouring Rays starter Tyler Glasnow, aided and abetted by Rays manager Kevin Cash forgetting his well-tested plot, then flipped their merry-go-round to cruising speed from the fourth through the sixth innings, and beat the Rays in Game One, 8-3.

Clayton Kershaw did more than his share starting for the Dodgers. With the continuing questions about his overall postseason life of bad fortune, Kershaw brought the best of his new self to bear, his sliders out-numbering his fastballs, striking out eight through six and getting nineteen misses on 38 swings against him for the highest single-game whiff rate of his entire major league life.

“Kershaw was dealing,” Cash said postgame. “You see why he’s going to the Hall of Fame one day.”

What nobody could see clearly was why Cash pushed his luck with Glasnow labouring to survive, his eight strikeouts negated by six walks—including the leadoff pass to Max Muncy opening the bottom of the fourth to start the Dodgers’ fun—and with only a 2-1 deficit against him when he came out of it.

Will Smith grounded Muncy to second almost right then and there. But Cody Bellinger—the man who rang the Atlanta Braves bell so resoundingly in the seventh National League Championship Series game—hit the first pitch into the Dodger bullpen in right center field. After walking Chris Taylor to follow and wild-pitching Taylor to second, Glasnow was lucky to escape with his and the Rays’ lives on a pair of back-to-back strikeouts.

That’s where Cash moved against his own successfully established grain. The Rays live and prosper on not letting the other guys get third cracks at their pitchers and thus keeping their pitchers from falling into position to fail or get failed. They play that game better than most and rolled the American League’s best irregular season record for their trouble.

Cash withstood the alarms blasted after he lifted Charlie Morton in American League Championship Series Game Seven after five and two-thirds efficient innings when trouble brewed with the Rays up 3-0. The move aligned perfectly to the Rays’ usual M.O. and it paid off with a pennant.

On Tuesday night, though, he left Glasnow in for the fifth despite 107 pitches to that point. With Ryan Yarbrough throwing in the Rays bullpen, Glasnow walked Mookie Betts on four straight balls following an opening strike. Over the past three seasons including a 34-start span, Glasnow had only thrown 100 pitches or more in a game three times, and Tuesday night wasn’t exactly one of his prime outings.

Cash still didn’t make a move after the walk to Betts. Room enough for the Dodgers to boot the merry-go-round. Glasnow walked Corey Seager after Betts stole second without a throw on a low pitch. He struck Justin Turner out, somehow—except that Betts and Seager delivered a near-textbook double steal.

Then Max Muncy bounced one right to Rays first baseman Yandy Diaz. Diaz threw home. This was supposed to be one of those plays the Rays’ usually larger-than-life defense executes with an arm missing and half asleep. Except that Diaz’s throw arrived up the third base line and Betts slid into the plate while Seager took third and Muncy stood safe at first.

“The at-bat with Muncy right there,” Cash said post-game, “just was hoping it felt like [Glasnow] was the best guy to get a strikeout.” Not on a night when only 58 of Glasnow’s 117 total pitches were strikes. Glasnow himself acknowledged trying to rush things a little too much in the beginning, but once he adjusted that he thought his mechanics were off.

“I have to execute pitches better and hold runners better,” he said, admitting the latter is probably his weakest attribute. “Later in the game, I wasn’t really able to throw anything for a strike except the heater. I think the changeup, I probably should have thrown that a little bit more . . . That curve ball, later on, I really didn’t have much feel for it.”

Smith knocked Seager home and Muncy to third with a jam-shot single to center. Finally Cash brought in Yarbrough, a good relief pitcher but a young man whose career to date includes that he’s vulnerable pitching with one out and rare (for him) inherited runners but better when he starts an inning clean.

The lefthander got rid of the lefthanded Bellinger on a pop up to third, but righthanded Chris Taylor lined Muncy home with a clean single to left and pinch-hitter Enrique Hernandez sent Smith home by shooting a base hit between short and third.

Yarbrough escaped with no further damage. Cash sent Josh Fleming out for the sixth. The Mookie Monster sent his first pitch into the right field seats. An infield pop out later, Turner and Muncy doubled back-to-back. Fleming didn’t surrender another run through his next two innings worth of work but that came under the too-familiar heading of taking one for the team.

Not that the Rays left things uninteresting on their end. They chased Kershaw’s relief Dylan Floro with one out in the seventh. Manuel Margot singled right through the middle infielders and Joey Wendle drove on to left center that Bellinger gave a great chase until the ball hit off the heel of his glove, setting the Rays up with second and third.

Then Cash sent Ji-Man Choi to bat for Willy Adames. Dodger manager Dave Roberts brought in lefthander Victor Gonzalez to face the lefthanded Choi. Cash pulled Choi for division series hero Mike Brosseau. And Brosseau lined Margot home with a single to right with Wendle stopping at third. He didn’t stay long. Kevin Kiermaier—whose fifth-inning solo home run was his first hit since being hit by a pitch in ALCS Game Three—lined a single to right to send Wendle home.

It was the final Rays homecoming of the night, but it almost wasn’t. Rays catcher Mike Zunino lined a missile right through the box that Gonzalez snatched just sticking his glove to his right, the ball’s force spinning him right into position to throw and double up Brosseau scrambling back to second. A hair off line or the glove missing by a hair and that missile might have been an RBI single with the Rays still swinging. Might.

The Rays tried to flip their own merry-go-round switch and the Dodgers succeeded in throwing a stick into the motor belt, with Pedro Baez and Joe Kelly finishing up throwing the spotless final two innings.

It was also a night to make history. Kershaw nailed his 201st lifetime postseason strikeout, moving him into second place behind his fellow likely Hall of Famer-to-be Justin Verlander. Betts became the first player in World Series history to homer, steal, and score twice in the same Series game. Cash became the first Little League World Series player to manage in the World Series when he grew up.

“It’s great to get the Series going with a win,” said Kershaw to reporters after the game. “That’s the biggest thing, for us, is to get going. Get that first game—it’s always important to get that first game of a series. Just for me, personally, it’s awesome, you get to pitch well and get a win in a World Series. Like I said, I’m just thankful for another opportunity.”

Bellinger going deep looked like a man who shook off the shoulder dislocation his NLCS bombing brought when it happened during the dugout celebration. He took no chances this time.”I said it before the game,” he told reporters post-game. “If I hit one today, I’m not touching anyone’s arm. I’m going straight foot.”

Since he hit the first Dodger bomb of the Series, Bellinger got to lead the first such dance. Appropriately. And you thought last year’s World Series champion Dancing Nationals knew how to bust moves and cut rugs.

Ask not for whom the Bellinger tolls

You call that a bat flip??

If Cody Bellinger’s going to be the long distance October hero, he’s going to have to work on those bat flips. The billiards cue-like toss he offered up in the bottom of the seventh Sunday night would get him laughed out of the parlours of our Jose Bautistas and Willson Contrerases.

Hit what proves to be the pennant-winning home run in the bottom of the seventh? C’mon, bro, don’t hold back. Give us the real deal. Give us that flip that needs a meal and a stewardess on board. Show Contreras his upper deck-high flip was just a little ring toss by comparison. Trust us, Cody, it won’t hurt.

Especially not after Mookie Betts, who thought nothing of breaking into the happy dance after scaling back-turned up the right field wall to snatch a possible triple from Marcell Ozuna Saturday, forgot to bust a move or ten after he flat robbed Freddie Freeman of a home run with another running, back-scaling, up-the-wall catch in the fifth Sunday night.

It wouldn’t have hurt, annoyed, angered, or outraged anyone any deeper than the Atlanta Braves wounded themselves when they TOOTBLANned* their way out of a fourth-inning rally that might have put them beyond the Los Angeles Dodgers’ reach in National League Championship Series Game Seven.

Bellinger’s eighth-pitch drive into the right field seats off Atlanta reliever Chris Martin was at least as dramatic as the seventh-inning blast he launched in Game Seven of the 2018 NLCS. It won’t supplant Kirk Gibson’s legless Game One-winning launch in the 1988 World Series. Bellinger has an entire World Series to come to show he has that kind of drama in him.

Nobody would put it past him. Yet. He picked the perfect moment to shake off a season during which he waged war with his own plate mechanics and an NLCS during which it looked like he’d spend his entire time running into the same kind of hard outs that drove Houston’s Alex Bregman out of his gourd in the American League Championship Series.

Be very afraid, Tampa Bay Rays. These Dodgers have a few boppers to match your own Randy Arozarena. They hit a staggering sixteen home runs as a team in the entire NLCS. That’s as many as some teams hit in an entire month.

Bellinger was preceded by Enrique Hernandez, pinch hitting for Joc Pederson to lead off the bottom of the sixth, against A.J. Minter, the rookie Brave who opened so magnificently in Game Five (striking out seven of nine batters). Hernandez worked Minter to an eighth pitch and sent it over the left center field fence to tie Game Seven at six.

You Rays may also need all of your band of defensive aerialists, acrobats, high-wire walkers, and human cannonballs to counteract one all-in-one Betts. The Dodgers can slap and flap the leather with the best in the business, but they’re not exactly the Flying Wallendas or even the 1969 Mets. Except for the guy wearing number 50 patrolling right field.

Who will offer absolution to the left side of the Braves infield that got themselves caught on the wrong side of a two-for-the-price-of-one baserunning mishap that may have been Sunday night’s true game-turner?

If it comforts Dansby Swanson and Austin Riley any, their fraternal flop didn’t exactly put paid to this NLCS the way Babe Ruth’s beyond-insane, out-by-five-miles stolen base attempt ended the 1926 World Series in the St. Louis Cardinals’ favour. Close enough but not quite the coffin nailer enough will try to secure it.

Swanson and Riley are the guys you really feel for after the Dodgers’ nerve-exposing 4-3 win. They picked the absolute wrong night to become two Lonnie Smiths for the price of one. No, I rescind that, right here and now.

In that 1991 World Series, inside the Richter-scale-busting racket of the old, gone, distinctly unlamented Metrodome, Smith got fooled just long enough by Minnesota Twins keystone Chuck Knoblauch and Greg Gagne, catching Smith’s sight running from first and performing a pantomime double play . . . when Terry Pendleton ripped a rocket into the left center field gap that should have sent Smith home with a scoreless tie-breaking Game Seven run.

Corey Seager pronounces Austin Riley and the Braves’ fourth-inning rally DOA.

Unfortunately for Swanson, Riley, and the Braves, the Dodgers weren’t trying any trickery Sunday night. They were down 3-2 in the fourth and trying merely to hang in and find a way to revive and prosper. They weren’t even expecting Swanson and Riley to be on second and third in the first place.

They got there because Dodger reliever Blake Treinen—in to clean up a small mess left behind by Tony Gonsolin that resulted in the third Braves run—wild pitched them from their original first and second stations. And they’d gotten those courtesy of Gonsolin serving Ozzie Albies an RBI single.

Now Treinen got Braves left fielder Nick Markakis to ground one to Dodger third baseman Justin Turner playing well enough down the line. Turner fired home and caught Swanson dead about six feet from the plate. Catcher Will Smith threw back to Turner, who took a flying leap like Superman taking off in flight to tag Swanson—with Riley, perhaps insanely, trying for third anyway after initial hesitation.

The problem was Dodger shortstop Corey Seager backing up the Swanson rundown. Trying to take the base under guard that heavy might get you points for chutzpah but DOA otherwise. As Riley was when he got tagged and bagged. As the Braves were from that point forward.

“It was huge,” lamented Braves manager Brian Snitker post-game. “It’s hard to score runs in the postseason. The infield’s back so you see the ball up the middle. That’s where normally we’re a really good baserunning team. We just did the fundamental things wrong.”

How can you say the Braves died with a 3-2 lead? Center fielder Cristian Pache grounded out to shortstop to finish killing that fourth-inning rally. Then Dodger relievers Treinen in the fifth, Brusdar Graterol in the sixth, and Julio Urias in the seventh through ninth kept the Braves to one lonely baserunner (a sixth-inning walk to Albies) the rest of the game.

The Braves will too often note and too long remember that they slapped an early 3-0 lead out of Dodgers opener Dustin May and then Gonsolin. They’ll remember May walking Ronald Acuna, Jr. and Freeman on eight consecutive pitches and Marcell Ozuna singling Acuna home in the top of the first. They’ll remember Swanson greeting Gonsolin rudely by hitting a 1-1 pitch over the left field fence leading off the second.

But they’ll also remember the Dodgers solving starter Ian Anderson’s changeup early enough to lay off it and start hitting some hard balls around, just biding their time until they could pry through. They’ll remember Smith hitting Anderson’s inside curve ball for a two-run single in the third. They’ll never forget Hernandez and Bellinger ringing the bells.

“It’s just the mentality we have,” Seager said postgame. “Show up that day, win that day. This team does a very good job being in the moment. You gotta stay in that moment, be in the moment and let the chips fall where they may. Right now, they’re falling our way.”

Entering Game Seven the Braves scored one less run all irregular year long than the Dodgers scored. Exiting Game Seven and the postseason they still ended up scoring one less run overall—but six less in the NLCS. They may remember trading Game Three and Four blowouts and reaping the sweet fruits of Bryse Wilson shaking off an irregular season’s 4.02 ERA to pitch like a Hall of Famer starting Game Four.

They may also remember they’ve been pushed out of postseasons with far heavier blows than they took Sunday night. But they might also want to remember that they shook off that nasty 13-1 blowout by the Cardinals in last year’s division series to take a second consecutive possession of first place in the National League East, no matter how bizarrely truncated 2020 was.

The Braves will be back. Count on it. They may even have forged the beginnings of a beautiful postseason rivalry with the ogres from the National League West. It’ll just have to keep until next season. Sure it would have been lovely to see the Braves tangle with the Rays in the World Series. Southeast rising.

But won’t it be a little more fun to think that the Tampa Bay Davids might have a shot at taking down the Los Angeles Goliaths? With or without these Dodgers’ recent snakebitten history, that ought to be fun, fun, fun—until or unless Daddy takes the slingshot away.

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* TOOTBLAN—Thrown out on the bases like a nincompoop. Invented originally for former Chicago Cubs infielder Ryan Theriot, whose baserunning skills were described politely as less than average.

Baseball takes the Fourth

2019-07-04 LouGehrig

Lou Gehrig, who said farewell eighty Fourths of July ago . . .

This year is a splendid one for baseball anniversaries, not all of them pleasant. A hundred years ago the Reds were cheated out of the thrill of World Series victory by the agony of the Black Sox’s chill of self-conscious defeat; fifty years ago, the eight-year-old, crazy Mets were crazy enough to win a division, a pennant, and a World Series. Just to name two.

Today America will have its annual red, white, and blue pyrotechnic racket celebrating the declaration without which this hardy if too often self-buffeted experiment would not be alive to watch twelve major league baseball games and a few hundred more minor league games.

And the Mets, crazy this year for reasons having too little to do with the craziness of 1969, get their first Fourth of July off in a non-strike-impacted season in their entire franchise history, after splitting a pair with the Yankees Tuesday and Wednesday. No such luck for the Empire Emeritus; they have landed in Florida to open a weekend with the freshly upstart but lately teetering (they’ve won 5 of 7 but lost 9 of 16 entering today) Rays.

Twenty seasons after the shenanigans of the 1919 World Series, America’s 4 July fireworks were handed a sober contrast in the old Yankee Stadium. Two weeks after receiving his diagnostic death sentence, the insidious disease that now bears his name, Lou Gehrig accepted the honour of his teammates past and present and did what he’d rarely done on the field prior to his self-imposed removal from the Yankee lineup.

He wore his heart on his sleeve. He also spoke without a script, without premeditation, without a speechwriter. You can hunt all you like but find no actual or alleged American leader that gifted by spontaneous soul:

Fans, for the past two weeks, you have been reading about the bad break I got. But today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.

I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky.

Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow?

To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky.

When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift—that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies—that’s something.

When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter—that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body—it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed—that’s the finest I know.

So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.

Leave it to Hollywood to bowdlerise such transcendence the way it did when, despite availability’s freshness, they put a completely fictionalised version of Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man” speech into Gary Cooper’s mouth, the crowning insult from a film that insults more than embraces Gehrig’s actualities. In a later generation a Hell’s Angels president lamented their press coverage by wondering, “All that bullshit, hell, ain’t the truth bad enough for ’em?” Film students and baseball fans alike have every right to ask of The Pride of the Yankees, “All that bullshit, hell, ain’t the truth good enough for ’em?”

On the same day Gehrig graduated from baseball excellence to soul transcendence, Jim Tabor, a Red Sox third baseman, hit two grand slams in a doubleheader nightcap against the Philadelphia Athletics. (One of them was an inside-the-park number.) He became one of only thirteen players to perform that feat, on a day he driving in eleven runs over the entire doubleheader.

In 1983 a Yankee pitcher, Dave Righetti, subsequently a respected pitching coach, kept the Red Sox from making their own Fourth of July fireworks. He threw a no-hitter, the first Yankee to do it since Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series and the first Yankee lefthander to do it since George Mogridge—in 1917, while the world war alleged to be ending all wars continued apace.

Righetti finished his no-hitter with a flourish. In 1983 Hall of Fame third baseman Wade Boggs struck out a mere 36 times. The bad news is that one of those strikeouts completed Righetti’s masterwork. Which reminds me that sixteen pitchers have struck out 3,000 or more batters and only two of them secured number 3,000 on the Fourth of July: Nolan Ryan (1980; his victim: Cesar Geronimo) and Phil Niekro. (1984; his victim: Larry Parrish.)

One year after Knucksie’s milestone the Mets and the Braves played a game that started on the Fourth of July and ended on the fifth of July. The good news for the Mets: Keith Hernandez hit for the cycle. The better news for the Braves: pitcher Rick Camp tied the game with a home run—in the bottom of the eighteenth. (“If this team needs me to tie a game, they’re in trouble,” Camp remembered later.) The best news for the Mets: They scored three in the top of the nineteenth before Ron Darling—now a Mets broadcaster, then a starting pitcher pressed into survival relief—struck out Camp himself to end the 16-13 win.

The Braves said nuts to that and went ahead with their postgame fireworks show anyway. Nothing keeps some people from their red, white, and blue racket making—not even the fifth of July and nineteen innings of baseball.

Sixty years to the day before that Fourth, two Hall of Famers—Lefty Grove (Athletics) and Herb Pennock (Yankees)—tangled in a pitching duel that went fifteen innings before Grove surrendered the game-losing RBI to Yankee catcher Steve O’Neill. The bad news: It was one of only ten RBIs O’Neill would have all season long. The worse news: it was the first game of a doubleheader.

Today, the eyes of baseball will fall most likely upon the Dodgers, who enter a home game against the Padres on a streak of five consecutive games won in the final plate appearance of the inning. The last two of the streak were won by Cody Bellinger, the Dodger outfielder doing his level best to give Dodger fans a taste this season of what Angel fans have tasted since 2012 from Mike Trout.

On Tuesday night, Bellinger received the fifth consecutive walk of the bottom of the ninth to win, 5-4. On Wednesday night, having opened the scoring with a parabola over the center field fence, and with his parents in Dodger Stadium, Bellinger stepped up in the bottom of the tenth and sent one into the right center field bleachers. Winning again, 5-4.

The two Wednesday blasts put Bellinger into the Dodgers’ record book. He knocked two Brooklyn legends—Hall of Famer Duke Snider, and eventual Miracle Mets manager Gil Hodges—to one side for the most home runs by a Dodger in any season prior to the All-Star break.

But the eyes of baseball are just as likely to fall upon the Nationals, in Washington, when they host the Marlins in the nation’s capital. The Nats have gone from basket case in the making to winners of 15 out of 17 and a resurrected National League East threat, and even their once-lamented 2019 bullpen seems to be shaking off its early season penchant for throwing kerosene balls.

An American president-to-be fired the pronouncement heard ’round the world 243 years ago. (If you’re scoring at home, that’s one year more than the total home runs a former Nationals manager hit during his own playing career.)

May [our Declaration] be to the world, what I believe it will be (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all) the Signal of arousing men to burst the chains, under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded to bind themselves, and to assume the blessing & security of self government.

Let today’s American political (lack of) class sully America’s birthday all it wishes, if only because the formal legal holiday allows even a single day’s relief from their suffocating mischief. Immune as almost completely they are to America as an idea as well as a country, let them stew all they choose that they can’t really impose that immunity upon still-sovereign Americans, enough of whom will re-embrace America the idea in hand with America the country today.

Descended from stock as varied in international origin as baseball players are in performance, approach, and style, still-sovereign Americans will spend a fair portion of her birthday watching the game that above all others begins with the act of a sovereign individual but scores with the act America the idea embraces in the abstract and, at her best, the actuality. Enunciated best by the Yale scholar of renaissance literature (Dante in particular) who eventually became baseball’s overseer, if for a tragically brief term:

Baseball is quintessentially American in the way it tells us that much as you travel and far as you go, out to the green frontier, the purpose is to get home, back to where the others are, the pioneer ever striving to come back to the common place. A nation of migrants always, for all their wandering, remembers what every immigrant never forgets: that you may leave home but if you forget where home is, you are truly lost and without hope.

Mr. Jefferson, meet Professor Giamatti. Preferably behind home plate, but anywhere you might see America’s best annual birthday present, that roaming to the frontier, that hope of coming home, its starting cry the one with which you, Mr. Jefferson, might have finished your declaration and America’s, had you been clairvoyant enough to see its advent: Play ball!

 

Bellinger’s April showers

2019-04-30 CodyBellinger

Another day, another RBI for Cody Bellinger, so it seems . . .

At this writing, Dodgers first baseman/ outfielder Cody Bellinger is an RBI freak. He’s driven in more runs prior to today’s date than any. player. ever. (37) to open a season. He’s also hitting so far (a Show-leading 1.487 OPS) as though the only way to stop him is to throw him a ball that implodes before he can swing.

Get Bellinger to the plate with men on base and it’s like having home insurance, right? So far. But get the men on base in the first place? Not so fast, Junior.

Reality check, again: You can’t drive in runs unless the men ahead of you in the order can reach base. Or (as I observed in another essay) unless you can run the bases twice or more before your home run ball lands. If the Road Runner could hit for distance even he wouldn’t be that fast.

If the opportunities aren’t there, you’re not going to drive them in no matter how good a hitter you are. In 128 plate appearances so far at this writing, Bellinger’s batted 73 percent of the time with men on base and driven one in 37 percent of the time he’s had the chance. He seen his opportunities and took them, as the old saying pronounces so ungrammatically.

Last year entering 30 April Bellinger had 114 plate appearances, 53 percent of the time with men on base, and drove one in 20 percent of the time he had the chance. He had a .280/.339/.458 slash line through 30 April while he was at it, with six doubles, two triples, and three home runs among his thirty hits.

This year so far, Bellinger’s getting a little luck his way, which his .400 batting average on balls in play tells you. But he also seems to be making his own luck while he’s at it; his plate discipline has improved rather dramatically. (Eighteen walks to fifteen strikeouts, and the strikeouts are only 22 percent of his 68 outs through this morning.) The question before the house, then, is whether Bellinger can keep it up.

Historically, not really. Bellinger’s best months so far have been April and August. So far in his career he’s hit 136 points lower in May, 76 points lower in June, 106 points lower in July, and 93 points lower in September and the season-ending early October days. His Augusts have served to finish him out as practically the same hitter in the first as the second half of a season, overall.

Unless he’s worked something else new and unique with the Dodgers’ new hitting coach Robert Van Scoyoc, you can probably put to rest your fantasies about a 70 home run/180 RBI/1.500 OPS season for Bellinger. Considering Bellinger’s normal abilities I don’t think the Dodgers will complain.

Because, unfortunately, he can’t run more than one full circuit around the bases before his home runs land. (He’s swift afoot, and he takes the extra base on followup hits 40 percent of the time so far this year, but the fastest power hitter on the planet won’t reach second before the ball reaches the seats.) And, he can’t will those ahead of him in the Dodger lineup to reach base.

Here’s what’s more impressive about Bellinger as of this morning. Forty-six percent of his hits have gone for extra bases, even if 67 percent of those extra base hits have been home runs. He has a .929 real batting average (RBA)—total bases, walks, intentional walks, and sacrifices (all the things you do at the plate; not just your hitting average, which is what the traditional batting average ought to be called), added up and divided by his 128 plate appearances—which is 302 points above his lifetime RBA.

(Though you can just picture someone, in some clubhouse, briefing pitchers about to face Bellinger in the lingo of old Joe Schultz, the manager of the Seattle Pilots: “Somebody’s getting him out—the bastard’s only hitting .434!”)

It’s probably less sustainable than his RBI pace and his OPS through this morning. Mike Trout with a .722 RBA through this morning is playing Mike Trout baseball. (His lifetime RBA: .653.) Cody Bellinger with a .929 RBA through this morning is playing well over his own head. (Lifetime RBA, entering this season: .595.) But it’s been phenomenally fun to watch him so far.