| USA TODAY
Dodgers Stadium hosting a drive-in watch party for the World Series.
Dodgers Stadium is hosting fans for a drive-in World Series watch party between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Tampa Bay Rays.
Some of it is maturity. A good portion of it is a willingness to adjust. And the rest of it is probably Mookie Betts.
For all these reasons and a few more underlying ones, the Los Angeles Dodgers have rewritten their recent October narratives of flailing and failing. A collection of elite offensive performers has turned into an indomitable offensive unit.
And the difference between the two grows more palpable as the Dodgers draw nearer a World Series title.
The Dodgers are halfway to that goal after jumping former October nemesis Charlie Morton and never letting up in a 6-2 Game 3 victory on Friday night, earning them a 2-1 Series lead.
Left-handers Julio Urias and Clayton Kershaw can pitch the Dodgers to their first championship since 1988 in Games 4 and 5, but they will take the mound knowing the pressure to be perfect is far lighter than it was in the Dodgers’ three previous trips to the postseason, which included World Series setbacks in 2017 and ’18.
A different club now? Yes and no.
Oh, the Dodgers can still bang: They led the major leagues in home runs over this shortened season, just as they led the National League in 2019 and 2018 and finished three homers off the pace in 2017.
It’s just that the acquisition of Betts and the gentle aging of their core sluggers has created a lineup that adjusts not just at-bat to at-bat, but pitch-to-pitch, that exhausts pitchers regardless of game situation and can beat you in so many ways.
A record 48 two-out runs scored this postseason, including four of the five runs off Morton, who beat them in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series as a Houston Astro.
A World Series-tying two games with multiple stolen bases for Betts, acquired in February, signed to a $365 million extension in the summer and already worth it.
A World Series first from Austin Barnes: A safety squeeze bunt in the fourth inning, and a solo home run in the sixth inning, the first catcher to pull off that combo in Fall Classic history.
Yes, they still elevate and celebrate: Justin Turner’s first-inning homer started the scoring and Barnes’ longball capped it. What unfolded in between is what separates these Dodgers from their predecessors.
“It’s not always about driving the ball,” says Betts, now sporting a .384 on-base percentage and six steals in as many attempts this postseason. “We’ve proven we’ll take our singles too.
“We’ve done a good job of putting pride to the side and just playing pepper.”
And torturing the opposition.
They seized control of the game in the third, an inning that began with strikeouts by Barnes and Betts. Corey Seager was grazed by a pitch, which seemed innocent enough.
But then Turner pulled a double into the left-field corner, Seager getting a stop sign at third.
That brought up Muncy, who saw his OBP tumble from .391 in 2018 to .374 last year and .331 this year.
But like all the Dodgers, he has raised his entire game this October, drawing 17 walks and bringing a .435 playoff OBP into Game 3.
He ran up a full count on Morton before singling to center field, driving in two for a 3-0 lead and extending the two-out nightmares of their opponents.
They rumbled back from a 3-1 NLCS deficit against Atlanta by never saying die: In their four victories, 20 of their 29 runs came with two outs.
“You’re one out away, a walk here, a single here, a double here, next thing you know, you’ve given up a couple runs, you can’t stop the bleeding,” Betts says of being on the wrong side of that coin. “I just think we did a good job keeping up pressure.”
In this World Series, they’ve already toppled Tyler Glasnow and Morton, and drove Blake Snell from the game in the fifth inning. It’s a marked contrast from past postseasons, when a Chris Sale or a Justin Verlander, a Stephen Strasburg or a David Price would play keepaway, pitching deep into games and frustrating all those Dodger sluggers.
“It’s a philosophy of really trying to grind, beat the shift, shorten our swings if we have to,” says Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “With our experience in past postseasons, you run into 1s and 2s who will make good pitches, (so) shorten your swing, use the other side. And as a credit to the hitting coaches, they’ve done that.”
Roberts earned kudos in Game 3 when he called upon Barnes for the safety squeeze bunt in the fourth, citing Cody Bellinger’s superior speed running from third, and the lack thereof from nimble but lumbering Rays first baseman Ji-Man Choi.
Two innings later, Barnes hit his historic exacta when he drove a John Curtiss pitch over the center field wall. Which feat will he look back upon more fondly?
“Probably the homer,” he said. “It’s a cool little stat, but it’s hard to barrel the ball up against really good pitchers.”
That’s a lesson the Dodgers learned the hard way. And it seems they finally have all the answers.