SAN DIEGO — The Dodgers’ Saturday lineup featured an unexpected omission: Cody Bellinger.
Although they faced right-hander Joe Musgrove, the Dodgers opted to bench Bellinger and start Trayce Thompson in center field.
Roberts pointed to Bellinger’s poor history against Musgrove — he’s 2-for-17 against him — and said the team liked the chances of Thompson and left fielder Chris Taylor producing better. But the decision appears to have taken Bellinger by surprise.
“He was upset,” Roberts said. “He wanted to be in there. He expected to be there. All year I played him against a right-handed pitcher, and he wanted to be in there. But he also said he would be ready for anything we need.
The Dodgers stuck with Bellinger as a daily center fielder for most of the regular season, even though he was one of the majors’ worst hitters for the third straight season after winning the NL MVP award in 2019. They changed their approach in September, downgrading Bellinger to a squad player against right-handed starting pitchers.
The Dodgers followed this script in the first three games of the NLDS: Bellinger started in Games 1 and 2 against right-handed starters before being benched in Game 3 against southpaw Blake Snell. But they changed course on Saturday, illustrating a disconcerting drop from MVP to bench player in three years for a player still at his physical peak.
Bellinger, 27, remains one of the best defensive center defensemen in the majors, but he hasn’t returned to All-Star form since 2019. He posted a .203 batting average and .648 save percentage. on base-plus-slugging over the past three seasons. His 74 OPS+ suggests he was 36% worse as a hitter than a substitute-level player (100 is considered average).
He was significantly better in last year’s playoffs, hitting .353 with a .907 OPS, being given the go-ahead in Game 5 of the NLDS against the Giants and a home run against the Braves in the NLCS, but he’s went 1 for 6 with four strikeouts in his two starts against the Padres in this NLDS.
Always a fan favorite, Bellinger has one more year of team control before hitting free agency. The Dodgers, however, may choose not to offer him a contract this offseason, thus releasing him. MLB Trade Rumors predicts Bellinger would earn $18.1 million through officiating next season — a modest increase from the $17 million he received this year.