By Norm Elrod
(CBS Los Angeles/CBS Local) — The 2019 Major League season carries on, drawing a little closer to the All-Star break and a little further from Opening Day. As the days and games pass, they start to reveal things when taken altogether. The sample set is large enough.
Almost two months in, Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Cody Bellinger continues to rip the cover off the ball. His name tops the lists of MLB stat leaders across a variety of hitting categories. And the slugger shows no sign of letting up.
Likewise, the Houston Astros just completed another 10-game winning streak, their second of the young season. The plate production is spread across their lineup, which is missing the linchpin of the team’s success in recent seasons. And yet the hits and runs keep coming.
The Astros haven’t faced Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu yet, however. The lefthander, like his teammate, has put up absurd numbers this season. Is it any wonder the Dodgers sport the best record in the National League?
This week’s Baseball Report breaks down Cody Bellinger and Hyun-Jin Ryu, two of the players fast-tracking the Dodgers toward the World Series, and the Astros, the team they might find waiting there in October.
Cody Bellinger Crushing It
Dodgers’ right fielder and occasional first baseman Cody Bellinger continues his torrid pace, and it’s starting to look like more than a hot streak. Coming out of the weekend, the Dodgers’ first baseman is batting an impressive .405, with 17 home runs and 44 runs batted in through 163 at-bats in 46 games. That includes his 5-11, two-home run showing in their recent series with the Cincinnati Reds.
His average leads the Majors… by a lot. For some perspective, MLB’s second-leading hitter as of Monday is the Minnesota Twins’ Jorge Polanco, who’s hitting .343. Those other totals check in at or near the top of their respective categories; he’s tied for the League lead in RBIs, and tied for second in HRs.
And as if we need more to support his case for early-season MVP status, Bellinger is slugging an incredible .791, with only 28 strikeouts. His WAR (wins above replacement) of 4.6 leads the Majors, with the Los Angeles Angels Mike Trout a distant second at 3.2.
Don’t expect Bellinger to keep up this pace all season, even if he one day ends up National League MVP. Only 13 times since the beginning of the 20th century has a player hit better than .400 for the year. And that list includes Hall of Fame names like Rogers Hornsby and Ty Cobb.
The Dodgers, at 31-17, have the third-best record in baseball partly because of Bellinger’s scorching start.
Astros Winning Streak Ends
Going into Sunday’s action, the Astros’ winning streak stood at 10 games. It was their second 10-game winning streak of the season so far, making them just the third team in MLB history to have two 10-game winning streaks before June 1.
After Sunday’s 4-3 loss to the Boston Red Sox — they were going to lose again eventually — the Astros still held the best record in baseball. The team’s offense led the Majors in a variety of hitting categories, from average (.279), slugging (.506) and on-base percentage (.353) to RBIs (253, tied) and hits (446). Their 86 HRs put them third among all teams after Sunday.
With All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve slumping and recently languishing on the injured list, George Springer has led the way so, hitting .313 with 17 HRs and 42 RBIs coming out of the weekend. Alex Bregman’s .269 at the plate, with 14 HRs and 34 RBIs, has certainly helped.
The Astros’ pitching — with a starting rotation featuring Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole — has been a model of efficiency as well. The staff has MLB’s fourth-best ERA at 3.43, allowing opposing batters to hit a League-low .206 against them going into Monday action.
The Astros may have just started another winning streak, when they shut out the Chicago White Sox to open a four-game series. Their 32-16 record to date is best in the Majors.
Hyun-Jin Ryu’s Scoreless Innings Streak
Speaking of streaks, Dodgers starting pitcher Hyun-jin Ryu pitched seven innings of shutout baseball Sunday to help the Dodgers beat the Reds. The lefthander’s latest strong outing — giving up 5 hits and a walk while striking out 5 — extends his scoreless innings streak to 31 innings.
Ryu’s ERA on the season dips to an absurdly low 1.52. He’s given up only 10 runs in 2019, while striking out 59 and walking only four in 59.1 innings. Adding his 2018 and 2019 totals shows he may be capable of maintaining this elite level of performance over the long-term. Can he stay healthy, and can he maintain those numbers over a long, continuous season? Those are questions the Dodgers hope to answer going forward.
But in a pitching rotation that also features ace Clayton Kershaw, Ryu has quietly become one of MLB’s best starters when healthy.