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Biggest Surprises After First Ten Games

Maybe it is a bit early in the season for the question, but what are your biggest surprises of the young season?

For me:

  • Mookie Betts struggling as much as he has.  Everything I read says that his hip is healthy.  I heard on the broadcasts that he found a mechanical flaw and corrected it.  It does not seem to be fixed.  Now I have heard that he may have some gastro-intestinal issues.  If that is true, then it is understandable that he is struggling.  Regardless as to the reason why, Mookie Betts is too good of a hitter to be kept down for much longer.  The Dodgers are 8-2, and doing this without Mookie making any kind of difference.  There is no reason to raise the anxiety level. 
  • Andrew Heaney pitching like he belongs in a rotation for a contender.  I was critical of the acquisition, but his first two outings indicate that he has a game changing slider.  Whether that slider and fastball are enough to keep him in the rotation we will have to wait and see.  I am not convinced he is anything more than a #5 starter, but I am also more convinced that he can become a quality reliever with that slider.  Two pitches for a reliever are all that are necessary.  For now, I will enjoy the new and improved Andrew Heaney, and see how long it lasts.
  • Cody Bellinger’s start.  I was never one who predicted that Belli would be destined for the DF pile.  But I did not think that his swing mechanic adjustments would come as quickly as they seemingly have.  His head was in the 1st base dugout as he screwed himself into the batters box while overswinging on every pitch.  It is always going to be the pitcher who discovers the hitter’s weakness, and exploits it.  It is then up to the hitter to make adjustments of his own.  Belli had not done that.  But something clicked as he started to lay off the high out of the zone fastball (his Kryptonite).  Once he did this, the pitches started to drop back in the zone, and he has been barreling many of the pitches.  I am not ready to claim that Belli is back to his first half 2019 form, but I do believe that 2021 is going to be a distant memory.  He needs to work on his consistency.
  • The change in plate discipline for Gavin Lux.  Gavin was an over-eager hitter last year, trying to find that magic he had in 2019.  I watched a lot of Gavin in 2019, and he was very disciplined at the plate, drove the ball to all fields, used his speed to force plays, never tried to hit HRs but kept his swing level through the zone only to lift on his follow through.  That allowed him to catch the ball with the barrel and then get launch angle.  HR’s were not the desired result, but driving the ball was.  Gavin went away from that player in 2020 and 2021.  Was he too eager to prove himself?  He did not need to.  But this year, Gavin is a new player.  He is hitting with authority again.  Many of his outs are loud.  He may be the player most impacted by the cooler weather and/or ball humidor.  At least two balls and probably three will be HR’s later this spring and summer.  I recognized the change in plate discipline, and commented on it.  But I did not realize to what extent until I read the graphic last night that Gavin was tied with Juan Soto for the MLB best 12% chase rate.  That is a different Gavin Lux.  He is more confident.  His defense is once again a plus.  I am no longer reading from some that he has the yips.   Just like with Belli, Gavin has improved, but he needs to work on consistency.  I think this is the breakout year from Gavin.
  • Tyler Anderson is a solid piggy back option and could become a legit #5 starter if the need arises.  Tyler Anderson has never been a front half of a rotation pitcher for a contender.  Maybe he is more comfortable in his new role with a contending LA Dodger team.  But he is pitching well enough that there is no need to rush the prospects from MiLB. 
  • The crowd’s reaction to Freddie Freeman.  I expected an extremely favorable welcome to Freeman, but the crowd has been overwhelming loud and supportive. As Orel had mentioned in Monday’s telecast, as loud as this crowd is now, can you imagine how loud they will be come playoffs?
  • Evan Phillips has become a weapon in the bullpen.  With the one exception of that one 82.8 mph hanging slider to Elias Diaz, he has been ridiculously lethal. Since that fateful AB, in his next four outings (including Tuesday), Evan pitched 4.1 innings and allowed no base runners with 4 strikeouts.  He has given management no reason whatsoever to release him (he has no options).

Those are my seven biggest surprises for the first 10 games.  I think I will do the same exercise with MiLB.  There have been several surprises, both positive and negative at the MiLB level.

Game Observations:

The 7-game win streak is broken.

In his first 27 starts last season (through August), Walker Buehler had 25 Quality starts…(6 IP and three runs or less).  That means only two non-quality starts over the first 4 months.  In 2022, Walker has not had a quality start in any of his first three starts.  In those starts and 15.2 IP, Buehler has allowed 7 runs, 17 hits, 2 HRs, 6 BB’s, and 11 K’s.  He is losing velo, and his strike out pitch is vanishing.  Did the limited number of ST innings push him back?  His next start should be against Arizona on Monday.  If that doesn’t get him started, then maybe there is a concern.

The Dodgers still have serious trouble with LHP.  The top hitters at OKC are mostly LH hitting.

Zach McKinstry (L) – .404, 1.121 OPS – 6-15 against LHP, 1 double and 1 HR

Ryan Noda (L) – .409, 1.269 OPS – 7-15 against LHP, 1 double

Kevin Pillar (R) – .341, 1.145 OPS – 5-10 against LHP, 1 double and 2 HRs

Eddy Alvarez (L) – .370, 1.062 OPS – 3-13 against LHP, 1 triple

Miguel Vargas (R) – .265, .825 OPS – 4-13 against LHP, 1 triple

There is no way Miguel Vargas is coming to LA to become a part time player.  I am guessing that either Zach McKinstry or Kevin Pillar make it to LA by May 1.  If it’s Pillar and there is no trade involving 40 man roster players, then I would look at either Garrett Cleavinger or Darien Nunez to get DFA’d.

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