Cody Bellinger Lifts Dodgers to Third NLCS in Five Seasons

The Dodgers are headed to the NLCS for the third time since 2013. They've yet to advance past the Championship Series since 1988, but there's reason to think 2017 might be different, starting with Cody Bellinger's bat and Yu Darvish's arm.
Publish date:

The Dodgers swept the Diamondbacks out of the Division Series with a 3-1 victory at Chase Field on Monday night. Deadline acquisition Yu Darvish gave the Dodgers just what they had hoped for when they acquired him from the Rangers on July 31, outdueling Zack Greinke, who battled to keep the Diamondbacks in the game despite having less than his best stuff.

The Dodgers will move onto the National League Championship Series for the second year in a row under manager Dave Roberts, and the third out of five overall. They’ll await the winner of the Cubs-Nationals series in their attempt to reach the World Series for the first time since 1988.  

1. The Kid from Chandler

Through his first two postseason games, Cody Bellinger had shown very little of the form that produced an NL rookie record 39 homers and a .267/.352/.581 line. While the rest of his teammates went a combined 23-for-62 (.370), the 22-year-old slugger had gone just 1-for-10 with six strikeouts, though his lone hit came in the Dodgers’ four-run first inning in Game 1, and he reached on an error during a three-run fourth-inning rally that night as well. He played good defense in both games as well, but he’d yet to break out.

He did so on Monday night as the series shifted to Arizona—his home turf, as he grew up in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, the son of former Yankees utilityman Clay Bellinger, now a firefighter and his son’s Home Run Derby pitcher. The younger Bellinger put the Dodgers on the board in the first with an RBI groundout that brought in Chris Taylor, who’d ripped a 109 mph leadoff double off Greinke. With two outs in the fifth, Bellinger got ahead 3-0, took a borderline inside fastball, then launched a changeup that caught too much of the plate for a 416-foot drive to left centerfield, extending the Dodgers’ lead to 2-0.

Bellinger’s homer—which made him the youngest Dodger ever to do so in the postseason at 22 years, 88 days, 75 younger than Corey Seager—was just the Dodgers’ second of the series, after Justin Turner’s three-run shot in Game 1. Within the next inning, both the DIamondbacks’ Daniel Descalso and the Dodges’ Austin Barnes also added solo homers, but Arizona still held a 7-3 edge in that department this series.

Bellinger flashed the leather on Monday night, too. After Descalso trimmed the lead to 2-1 via a solo homer off Darvish, who had been virtually unhittable to that point, the first baseman tumbled over the railing of the Dodgers' dugout to snag a foul ball off the bat of Jeff Mathis. Fortunately, he was able to brace his fall with a little help from his friends:

In the sixth, as Darvish departed after hitting pinch-hitter Christian Walker on the helmet, Bellinger made an excellent throw to avoid the runner on a 3-6-3 double play off the bat of David Peralta. He immediately followed that with a diving stop of a Ketel Marte smash, throwing to Brandon Morrow covering first base for the third out. In all, it was a big night on both sides of the ball for the kid in front of his hometown crowd.

2. Something about Yu

By the numbers, Darvish didn’t have a great season, going 10-12 with a 3.86 ERA (118 ERA+) and 3.83 FIP in 186 2/3 innings split between the Rangers and Dodgers, who acquired him in a July 31 deadline blockbuster. Still, he struck out 208 hitters, and largely stayed healthy. Over his last three starts, he was simply brilliant, whiffing 21 and allowing just two runs (one earned) in 19 ⅓ innings—the payoff of a simplified approach and mechanical changes that the Dodgers worked with him to implement after acquiring him.

Yankees' Resurgence Tells You Everything There Is to Know About Playoff Momentum

The payoff continued on Monday night, as he was utterly dominant. While Greinke slogged through five-plus frames, Darvish whizzed through his. He needed just 30 pitches to get through three innings, including a seven-pitch third that give his opposite number, who grounded out in that stretch, almost no time to sit down. Until Descalso homered in the fifth, the Diamondbacks’ only baserunner came via a first-inning bunt single by Marte, and none of the 18 hitters he faced got to a three-ball count.

After a 20-pitch fifth, by far his most laborious inning of the night, Darvish’s pitch count was at 68 when Roberts let him bat with one out and a man on third in the top of the sixth, but after nearly hitting Walker once (a review confirmed the call that it was a foul ball), he did hit him on the very next pitch, which produced a scary moment. Between the two delays, Roberts must have decided that he’d gotten enough from his 31-year-old righty and turned things over to the bullpen.

In all, Darvish struck out seven and generated 15 swings and misses. Via Brooks Baseball, he threw six different types of pitches, but just one curve and one changeup. He dialed his four-seam fastball as high as 97.8 mph, averaging 95.2 and generating 11 strikes from among the 14 he threw, three of them swings and misses. He was also was tremendously efficient with his slider (27 pitches, 21 strikes, five swings and misses), and his cutter (21 pitches, 15 strikes, four swings and misses); the latter was a pitch the Dodgers encouraged him to emphasize.

After Darvish exited, Robert used Tony Cingrani (two outs), Brandon Morrow (four outs), Kenta Maeda and Jansen (three outs apiece) to finish off the Diamondbacks, and for the first time in the series, the Dodgers’ bullpen didn’t allow a run. Peralta’s one-out ninth-inning single off Jansen was the only baserunner they allowed while striking out four. Fittingly, Jansen struck out Paul Goldschmidt, the Dodgers’ top nemesis, on a 95 mph cutter outside to end the game and the series.

For the series, the Dodgers bullpen allowed four runs (three earned) in 11 ⅔ innings, with a 10/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Grinding Greinke

After a rough first season in Arizona in 2016, Greinke ranked among the NL’s top half-dozen hurlers in several key categories including ERA (3.20, sixth) and WAR (6.0, fourth), but he couldn’t get out of the fourth inning in the NL Wild Card Game. Even after four days of rest following his 58-pitch outing, the 33-year-old righty was anything but sharp in Game 3, though he did his best to keep the Diamondbacks in the game.

The trouble began when Taylor smoked that leadoff double into the leftfield corner on Greinke’s sixth pitch. Corey Seager followed with a seven pitch walk, and then Taylor advanced on via Justin Turner’s short fly ball and Bellinger’s grounder to first, with Paul Goldschmidt expecting to throw home but misstepping and missing first base on his first attempt. Greinke needed 29 pitches to complete the first inning thanks to a 10-pitch plate appearance by Yasiel Puig.

Cubs Rally Late to Steal Game 3 From Max Scherzer, Nationals

The 33-year-old righty burned another 25 pitches in the second inning, thanks in part to an eight-pitch walk by Chase Utley and a pesky six-pitch at-bat by Darvish, who struck out. Greinke loaded the bases in the third via a pair of walks and a Turner single. But despite walking five hitters and needing 88 pitches to get through the first four innings, he kept the score at 1-0.

Just when he put together his most impressive sequence of the night, getting Seager on a first-pitch flyball and Turner on a four-pitch strikeout to start the fifth, Greinke fell behind Bellinger 3-0, and then KABOOM.

After the Descalso homer cut the score to 2-1, Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo was ready to pinch-hit for his ace in the fifth, but Bellinger’s play on Mathis left the pitcher in the leadoff position to start the sixth. On Greinke’s second pitch of the sixth, he served up an 89 mph fastball that Barnes lined 398 feet to leftfield, restoring their two-run lead.

That ended Greinke’s night at 104 pitches, of which just five were swings and misses. While the Arizona bullpen turned in four scoreless innings, 2 ⅔ by setup man Archie Bradley, the damage had been done. Poor Fernando Rodney, the Diamondbacks closer, not only never got to fire a single arrow, he never even got to pitch in the series.