Mookie Betts has been on an MVP-caliber tear for Dodgers in Marlins series

·5 min read
Los Angeles Dodgers' Mookie Betts (50) hits a home run in the first inning.
Dodgers' Mookie Betts hits a home run in the first inning against the Miami Marlins on Sunday in Miami. (Marta Lavandier / Associated Press)

Mookie Betts’ peaks are so high, even relatively productive stretches at the plate can seem quiet.

That’s where the All-Star right fielder was entering the Dodgers' weekend series in Miami. He'd been playing well in his return from a foot injury earlier this year, with a .283 batting average and an .859 on-base-plus-slugging percentage since the start of July. But he wasn’t on fire either, not all the way.

That’s changed over the last three games against the Marlins.

On Friday, Betts homered twice and then hit a game-winning double in the 10th inning. On Saturday, he went deep again for his 30th home run of the season.

And on Sunday, in an 8-1 win at LoanDepot Park, Betts put his stamp on the afternoon once more.

The former American League MVP homered in his first at-bat, sending the third pitch of the game bouncing off the top of the center-field wall for his 36th career leadoff blast, tying Shin-Soo Choo for 11th most in MLB history.

Betts then helped the Dodgers pull away in the sixth inning, punctuating a three-run rally with an RBI single to left.

In his final at-bat, he pulled a double down the line in the eighth, finishing the day with a .281 batting average and .910 OPS — which ranks fifth in the National League.

“He’s just swinging the bat so well,” manager Dave Roberts said. “When he’s like this, he stays in the strike zone and it seems like every swing he takes is center-cut.”

With a typically reserved demeanor postgame, Betts brushed aside the potential of this weekend being the start of another blistering tear — similar to a six-week stretch in late April and May during which he batted .348 and hit 16 home runs in 40 games.

“It’s been a good couple days or whatever” he said after improving to eight for 15 in the series with four homers and seven RBIs. “Just one day at a time. Just be where my feet are. Tomorrow will be tomorrow.”

Manager Dave Roberts high-fives Mookie Betts.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts celebrates with Mookie Betts after the Dodgers' 8-1 win over the Miami Marlins on Sunday. (Marta Lavandier / Associated Press)

His manager wasn’t so reticent, sounding almost conflicted when telling reporters postgame he would give Betts an off day Monday after three straight days playing on a turf outfield.

“The challenge for me is to recognize that [he’s getting hot], but to resist the urge to run him out there every single day,” Roberts said. “So that’s why it’s my decision to give him a day tomorrow — to keep that flame going.”

The spark for this latest outburst, according to Betts, has been his altered approach at the top of the lineup.

After starting the season with what he acknowledged were too many passive at-bats, Betts believes he’s flourished of late because of a more aggressive plan of attack — one he said was encouraged by teammates Freddie Freeman and Trea Turner.

“I think having Trea and Freddie here has definitely changed my perspective on hitting,” Betts said. “[Them] and the hitting coaches, they’re really my backbones and who I talk to … I just watched them. They basically showed me the way.”

Betts made the tweak sound simple.

Where he used to be mindful of working long at-bats and driving up pitch counts, he said, he’s now more willing to attack early in counts on pitches in the zone.

“It’s not like pitchers are going deep in games much anymore anyway,” Betts said. “So just be ready to hit. It’s already hard enough.”

The numbers back that up too: Betts is swinging at first pitches at his highest rate since his rookie season, and seeing fewer pitches per plate appearance than he did last year, as well.

“I just really like the aggressiveness,” Roberts said. “He's always going to look over the baseball, take his walks, run counts, but from pitch one, there's clear intent and there's no passivity, which at times last year there was.”

Sunday offered another prime example.

In his first at-bat, Betts took a borderline fastball for strike one, then laid off a sinker off the plate.

But when Marlins rookie starter Edward Cabrera — who had a 1.41 ERA entering the game before giving up six runs in 5⅔ innings — left a changeup over the plate on the next pitch, Betts hammered it, giving the Dodgers some early life in a game that started at 9 a.m. Pacific time.

“I think that kind of woke us up a little bit,” Betts said.

From there, the Dodgers (88-38) never trailed.

Justin Turner started a three-hit day with an RBI single later in the first. Trayce Thompson collected his seventh home run high off the foul pole in the second. Julio Urías gave up just one run in six innings.

And after an Austin Barnes two-run single in the sixth, Betts went first-pitch swinging to drive in another — coupling his renewed approach and red-hot bat once again.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.