Bellinger, Jansen could be Dodgers' big X-factors in NLDS originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area
Cody Bellinger and Kenley Jansen are two of the biggest names on one of the best teams in baseball. They both have a trophy case full of top honors, including a World Series ring from last season.
They also are two of the most important players in an NLDS featuring two rivals separated by one game.
Bellinger, 26, has been downright bad -- real bad -- at the plate since his 2019 NL MVP season. In his MVP campaign, Bellinger hit .305 with 47 home runs and a 1.035 OPS in 156 games. He led all of baseball with 21 intentional walks. But in the last two seasons combined, Bellinger has hit .195 with 22 home runs, a .642 OPS and a 72 OPS+.
He has been well below a replacement-level player, and yet, he could make all the difference in the world against the Giants starting on Friday night.
The Giants absolutely owned Bellinger this year. In 14 games against San Francisco this season, he had just two hits in 48 at-bats, good for a .042 batting average. That doesn't even look real, especially for a former MVP.
But nine out of his 10 home runs did come off right-handers this season, and we already know Logan Webb and Kevin Gausman, both right-handed pitchers, are starting the first two games of the NLDS. If Anthony DeSclafani starts Game 3, that makes three right-handers in a row for Bellinger to see against the Giants.
More importantly, Bellinger might have been the Dodgers' MVP in their 3-1 NL Wild Card Game win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday night by using other parts of his game. He went 1-for-2 with two walks and two stolen bases. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Bellinger worked a six-pitch walk before stealing second base off reliever Alex Reyes and catcher Yadi Molina.
When Chris Taylor connected on a walk-off two-run shot, it was Bellinger who threw his arms up in the air and began celebrating as he rounded the bases. The party was on and Bellinger was back to being the game-changer he was two years ago.
With Giants killer Max Muncy out for the NLDS, Bellinger will have to be a difference-maker once again, no matter what his role might be, and his postgame comments show he's ready to do just, with or without the long ball.
"There’s a lot more aspects to the game," Bellinger said to reporters after the Dodgers' win. "I feel good and I’m feeling healthy. Any way I can impact the game, I’m trying to impact it."
Jansen had his moment in the ninth inning, too.
The 34-year-old veteran closer entered the top of the ninth with the score tied and both Dodger Stadium and all of Twitter on its feet. He struck out the first batter he faced, Paul DeJong, before facing adversity that could have seen him crumble to the Cardinals. Tommy Edman roped a line drive to right field on the first pitch he saw, and then stole second base, putting the winning run in scoring position.
Jansen responded by striking out Paul Goldschmidt and Tyler O'Neill, two sluggers who combined for 65 home runs this season.
While Jansen is a three-time All-Star who holds a career 2.35 ERA in the postseason, he struggled last year in both the NLDS and World Series. Julio Urias, the Dodgers' Game 2 starter against the Giants, was relied upon more for closing duties when it mattered most on the way to a title. Now that Clayton Kershaw is shelved and Urias has been entrenched in the rotation, Jansen will again have to close the door for the Dodgers, starting with a team he struggled against this season.
In 6 2/3 innings against the Giants this year, Jansen went 0-3 with an ugly 12.15 ERA. The Giants forced eight walks and scored 10 runs — nine earned — off Jansen. He blew five saves in the regular season and two were against the Giants.
However, the postseason is, well, a whole new season. If Jansen pitches how he did against the Cardinals when he's handed the ball against the Giants, all will be forgiven.
All the storylines have been said over and over again already. The Giants won 107 games in the regular season, the Dodgers won 106. The Giants beat the Dodgers 10 times in 19 contests, giving LA nine wins against San Francisco. Every strike will count, as will every extra base.
A perfectly placed cutter could be all the difference, just like a timely stolen base in what should be a battle that all baseball fans are looking forward to.