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Dodgers Star Mookie Betts Is Back in MVP Form

The Los Angeles outfielder struggled, by his standards, in 2021. After a slow start to this year, he’s surging to what could be another award-winning season.
Los Angeles Dodgers’ Mookie Betts celebrates his home run during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Tuesday, May 24, 2022, in Washington.

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The last time we saw Mookie Betts during the 2021 season, he was striking out on three fastballs hurled right down Broadway by Braves reliever Tyler Matzek in the clinching game of the National League Championship Series. With the Dodgers trailing 4–2 in the seventh inning and runners on second and third, the former MVP who’d tortured the Braves in the ’20 NLCS was an ideal candidate to come through with a game-tying hit. Instead, he seemed utterly perplexed by three nearly identical offerings, and Los Angeles never got another man on base in the season-ending loss.

It was a whimper of an ending to what had already been a disappointing season by Betts’s lofty standards; it was the first year he wasn’t named on a single MVP ballot since 2014, his rookie campaign.

This season, though, Betts has been the spark plug atop L.A.’s lineup everyone envisioned he’d be when he was acquired from the Red Sox in Feb. 2020. He leads MLB with 44 runs scored, nine more than anyone else, and tied a Los Angeles Dodgers record Tuesday against Washington by scoring in his 12th consecutive game. (Hall of Famer Wee Willie Keeler holds the franchise feat with 14 straight games with a run scored, which he did back in 1901. Zack Wheat, another Hall of Famer, scored in 13 straight games in ’25, as did Sammy Strang, in ’03.) Betts also launched two home runs in Tuesday’s game, giving him the NL lead with 12 round-trippers, more than twice the number of dingers hit by any of his teammates. And those have all come since April 22, after he went homerless over the first couple of weeks. His 1.161 OPS since May 1 ranks fifth in the majors, and his .963 comes in at ninth for the entire season.

The big difference has been getting back in a groove against breaking pitches. In 2021, pitchers fed Betts more curveballs and sliders than he’d ever before; they accounted for 32% of the pitches he saw. He didn’t respond well, batting .209 and slugging .375 against breaking pitches. This year, however, Betts is batting .275 and slugging .475 against them (with pitchers using them 25.7% of the time), and he has already matched his ’21 total with two home runs against such offerings.

With just three stolen bases in 39 games, Betts is no longer a massive threat on the basepaths—his sprint speed clocks in the 55th percentile leaguewide—but he’s still a smart runner. He’s even had a nice-bounce back year in the grass after he graded out last season as a below-average fielder by outs above average for the first time ever. It’s possible he’s learned how to improve his jumps and routes after experiencing a loss of speed greater than one foot per second last season and initially struggling to adjust to life without elite speed. He at least still has a cannon for an arm in right field.

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Put it all together and Betts has been the sixth-most valuable player in the sport by fWAR (2.3), trailing only Padres third baseman Manny Machado among NL players. 

Betts may never again approach the output from his 2018 MVP season. No one has for a long time—his 10.6 fWAR in 2018 has been topped by only Barry Bonds during the 21st century. But by all-encompassing metrics such as OPS+ (169) and wRC+ (172), this is his second-best season at the plate. And if he keeps this up, that could be enough for him to become just the second player to win an MVP award in both leagues. (Make room for Mookie, Frank Robinson.) He’s already on a Hall of Fame track—some would argue he’s done enough to warrant induction already—and another MVP award would further enhance his case. But even if he falls short of hardware this year, he’s playing much better than he did in ’21, and that bodes well for the Dodgers as they look to win their second World Series in three seasons.

Quick Hits:

• Philadelphia appeared set for a rousing comeback win Tuesday night after Bryce Harper crushed a hanging slider from Braves closer Kenley Jansen (still weird) against in Atlanta to claim a 5–4 lead in the ninth. But in the bottom half of the frame, it all fell apart like it has so often for the Phillies in recent years.

Nick Nelson—who’d already pitched the entire eighth inning and was appearing in the ninth inning for the first time in two years with closer Corey Knebel unavailable—allowed a double to Dansby Swanson to lead off. Swanson moved to third on a wild pitch that catcher J.T. Realmuto probably should have blocked. Ronald Acuña Jr. lifted a would-be sacrifice fly to right-center field, where Nick Castellanos and Roman Quinn had a miscommunication and let the ball fall between them, allowing Acuña to scoot to second. William Contreras followed with a walk-off single. Long story short, the bullpen and defense failed them. The Phillies are who we thought they were—and who they’ve been for a while now.

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• The Yankees got a walk-off win, too, thanks to the game of light-hitting catcher Jose Trevino’s life. The former Rangers backstop hit his first career home run at Yankee Stadium in the third, followed with a game-tying RBI single in the seventh and ended the game in the 11th with a run-scoring rope into the left-field corner to defeat the Orioles, 8–7, and snap New York’s three-game losing streak.

Despite not being known for his capabilities in the batter’s box, Trevino was the perfect candidate to be the hero on Tuesday. A Texas native, Trevino choked back tears as he began his postgame interview by sending well wishes to the families of the victims of the elementary school shooting in his home state earlier in the day. Tuesday also marked the birthday of Trevino’s late father, who was a huge Yankees fan. The 29-year-old’s game-winning hit was the second walk-off of his career, with the first coming for Texas in his third career game on Father’s Day in 2018—and in both instances, Isiah Kiner-Falefa scored the winning run. How can you not love baseball?

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