Cody Bellinger is the reigning National League Most Valuable Player after a monster 2019 season that saw him lead the Los Angeles Dodgers to a seventh straight NL West title.
He’s a two-time All-Star, played in two World Series and he’s got a Jackie Robinson Award next to his MVP trophy on the mantel.
That’s a good career haul for most players, but Bellinger only turned 25 on July 13. He might be the best baseball player on the planet not named Mike Trout, and he could just be getting warmed up.
With the addition of former Red Sox star Mookie Betts and one of baseball’s best products in Gavin Lux, the Dodgers’ everyday lineup already looks unstoppable. What happens, though, if Bellinger gets as hot for the 60-game schedule as he did for the first two months of the 2019 season?
On June 2, 2019, the Dodgers were 41-19 and already had a nine-game division lead over the Colorado Rockies. Bellinger, who played in 58 of the 60 games, was hitting .376 with 20 homers and 52 RBIs—the equivalent of 56 home runs and 146 RBI in 162 games.
“I don’t know if anyone will hit 20 this year—that would be crazy—but I saw someone predicted 17 would lead the National League,” Bellinger says in a Zoom call with the Dodgers media. “That seems like a good target.”
Bellinger didn’t exactly slump after the first 60 games—he finished the season with a .305 average, 47 homers and 115 RBI—but now he’s had three extra months to get ready to defend his MVP.
“There are always small things you want to fix about your swing—not major adjustments, but stuff you want to do on a more consistent basis,” he says. “With all of this extra time, I decided I was never going to have a better chance to work on them in a stress-free environment.”
Bellinger thinks the work has paid off, but he’s not trying to duplicate the 2019 season.
“I don’t want to be the identical player I was a year ago, because you always want to be growing and evolving as a hitter,” he says. “I tried to remember how it felt and build off that. Right now, I’m feeling really good about where I am.”
Obviously, Bellinger’s extra workouts came because his sport had been shut down to the COVID-19 pandemic. He wasn’t worried about his own health, even as things got worse in his home state of Arizona, but he acknowledged it was strange not knowing when or if the season might get underway.
“It was hard to stay focused every day when all I was hearing were the notifications about things between the owners and the union,” he says. “You have to be mentally prepared to go out and work out not knowing what was going to happen. I’m just glad it finally came to a conclusion.”
While he was excited to get back to Dodger Stadium, he was disappointed it wasn’t in time to start the season with the All-Star Game scheduled to be played in his home park. The game will now be played in Los Angeles during the 2022 season.
“I’ve gotten to play in two All-Star Games, and they’ve both been awesome, but everyone will tell you there’s no bigger rush than playing in one at your own stadium,” he says. “Hopefully, I’ll get that chance in a couple years.”
Bellinger got used to wearing a mask while working out in Arizona, but nothing could prepare him for the other strangeness of the 2020 season—playing Major League baseball without fans.
“I think it is going to be fun, because it is such a unique experience,” he says. “We’re obviously taking it very seriously, but we’re still having some fun with it.
“It’s never going to happen again, but it is almost bringing the game back to when we were kids.”