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How Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts Stabilized the Dodgers Lineup


There may be a phrase in modern sports lingo that make no sense to Freddie Freeman: load management. The concept of sitting out now to remain strong later simply doesn’t add up.

“You’ll be able to be a five-tool player,” Freeman said on Tuesday, within the Los Angeles Dodgers’ dugout before a game at Citi Field. “But in the event you don’t have the sixth tool of playing every single day, what’s the purpose of the primary five tools?”

Within the last five seasons, no major leaguer has played in as many games or collected as many hits as Freeman. The Dodgers were 50 games over .500, at 91-41, after Saturday’s 12-1 win at home over San Diego, and Freeman has an ideal attendance record in his first season for the team.

“Just sitting there and making a living and doing nothing — I don’t understand that, and I won’t ever wrap my mind around that,” Freeman said. “I’m about to be 33 in two weeks. My profession is getting toward the top. Soon I’m not going to ever give you the chance to play again. Why would I just take a break day now? I don’t comprehend that.”

Freeman’s presence and philosophy highlight an evolution in a franchise attempting to win its fourth National League pennant within the last six seasons. The Dodgers have a gentle lineup headed by superstar imports: Mookie Betts, Trea Turner and Freeman. It was not at all times this manner.

The Dodgers once chased matchup benefits with the fervor of Homer Simpson’s softball manager, Mr. Burns, who sat Darryl Strawberry against a lefty — “It’s called playing the chances” — in a famous episode of “The Simpsons.” It is a team that gave every position player on the roster at the least one start within the 2018 World Series, and batted Kiké Hernández third in the ultimate game, despite the fact that he had not hit there since April.

Now the Dodgers have eight players with at the least 400 plate appearances; no other division-leading team has as many. Freeman leads the N.L. in plate appearances for the second yr in a row and brings quality to his quantity: a .326 average with a .908 on-base plus slugging percentage through Saturday.

“Up to now we’ve had more platoons and matching up, and I believe at times it’s a very good thing,” Manager Dave Roberts said. “Other times, you’ve got guys that know their roles but they’re not playing consistently, so sometimes I’ve seen that as a price.

“But when you’ll be able to run out guys every single day which can be consistent — they’ve routines, they know they’re playing — there’s some profit to that. And I assume we won’t know which one’s higher ’til after this postseason.”

Betts, Turner and Freeman have all played for teams that beat the Dodgers within the postseason. Betts did it with Boston in 2018, Turner with Washington in 2019 and Freeman with Atlanta last fall. The Dodgers won the World Series in 2020, the yr they acquired Betts in a trade with the Red Sox.

Until then, the Dodgers had been prudent — for a powerhouse, anyway. Andrew Friedman, the team’s president of baseball operations, inherited the majors’ highest payroll after the 2014 season. But he needed several long-term deals to run out before making a seismic move of his own.

That got here in July 2020, just before his first game with the Dodgers, when Betts signed a 12-year, $365 million contract. It dwarfed the combined value of the three most lucrative deals the Dodgers had previously given under Friedman (about $237 million in contract extensions for Clayton Kershaw, Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen), however the timing was right.

The talent was undeniable, too — because it was with Turner, who arrived within the 2021 trade that brought Max Scherzer for the stretch run, and Freeman, who signed a six-year, $162 million deal after his contract talks fizzled with the Braves.

“We now have talked so much about how strongly we imagine against attempting to construct a team in free agency — but supplementing a extremely good core, I believe, is a really effective strategy,” Friedman said. “There are things we tried in ’15, ’16 and ’17 that didn’t line up, but our payroll was still in a really transitory spot. We had numerous guys coming off and young guys coming up, and we got to the purpose where we had a core in place and the power to be a little bit bit more aggressive.

“So it was after ’19 where it was a really concerted effort, and that’s once we ended up trading for Mookie. Trea type of got here out of us searching for pitching. After which with Freddie, we speak about being by the backboard each time a star player is on the market. Just be across the backboard — you never know what’s going to occur, you don’t know which way it’s going to kick. Versus turning around and running back up the court, we’ll stay across the backboard.”

The deals, you would possibly say, have been slam dunks. Freeman, Turner and Betts all rank among the many top 10 within the majors this season in total bases, with Freeman leading the majors in hits (168) and doubles (43) through Saturday. Betts hit his career-high thirty third home run on Saturday, while Turner, who’s eligible free of charge agency after the season, leads all N.L. shortstops in O.P.S., at .831.

The associated fee of all that is staggering. The Dodgers have the majors’ highest payroll, at $265.6 million, in response to Spotrac, and their players understand the mandate that comes with the spending.

“It shows the dedication to wanting to win a world championship,” said Will Smith, who has quietly change into one among baseball’s most efficient catchers. “That’s what we’re all here to do, and you’ll be able to motivate yourself within the off-season knowing that the front office is putting together a team that’s going to be World Series-caliber.”

The Dodgers have clearly gotten what they paid for: the very best record in the game, probably the most runs scored, the fewest runs allowed (despite a rash of pitching injuries), and probably the most paying fans. The team crossed the three million mark in attendance this weekend, and averages greater than 48,000 fans per game.

In fact, all the things will reset before long, and the Dodgers will soon need to prove themselves all once again. They can’t admire their spellbinding season for long. As their on a regular basis first baseman can let you know, one other game is coming right up.

“When the regular season is finished, you’ll be able to probably say we may be the most effective regular season teams there may be,” Freeman said. “But that’s the important thing: it’s the regular season. We attempt to win every game, each night, that’s just who we’re — but once October hits, nobody cares what your record is.”

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