Dodgers three wins away from elusive World Series title

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SPORTS DIGEST

By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

Will the third time be the charm for the Dodgers and their fans?

After one game in the 2020 World Series, things are looking good for the boys in blue after an 8-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays Oct. 20 deep in the heart of Texas.

It was the Dodgers’ fourth win in a row after they backed themselves into a corner by falling behind the Atlanta Braves three games to one in the National League Championship Series.

It was no surprise the Dodgers fell behind the Braves, who were only the fourth good team the Dodgers have faced all year. With the short, 60-game schedule Major League teams are playing this year, the Dodgers were stuck with playing teams in the National League and American League Western Divisions during the season.

That means they faced the San Diego Padres 10 times and the Houston Astros and Oakland A’s five times each.

Playing 20 of 60 games against playoff competition is no way to prepare for post-season play, where one play can change an entire game. Fortunately for the Dodgers, they made most of the plays in the last three games against the Braves and that trend continued in the World Series opener against Tampa Bay.

Right fielder Mookie Betts has earned every cent the Dodgers are paying him with his all-around play.

He made tremendous defensive plays in three games in a row against the Braves and though he hasn’t been hitting for a high average, he has managed to manufacture runs with his legs when needed.

He stole two bases in the fifth inning in the first game against the Rays and then beat a throw home on a routine ground ball to first base. The Dodgers turned that spark into a four-run rally that gave them a 6-1 lead.

Behind Clayton Kershaw’s six suburb innings on the mound and home runs from Betts and Cody Bellinger, the Dodgers showed the Rays what they are up against in the series.

The Dodgers are a well-balanced team, who can win with power offense, speed on the bases, quality pitching and defense.

If they can keep it together over the last six games of the World Series, Los Angeles will be celebrating its first World Series title in 32 years.

But Tampa Bay cannot be expected to roll over after losing the first game of the series. If the Rays were going to fold, they would have after the Astros, down 0-3 in the American League Championship Series, won three straight games to force a game seven Oct. 24.

The Rays won game seven to advance to their second World Series, their first since 2008, when they lost to the Phillies in five games.

The Rays general manager that season was Andrew Friedman, the current head of baseball operations for the Dodgers. Friedman laid the foundation for the Rays success before coming to Los Angeles after the 2014 season.

The Dodgers had already won two straight National League West titles when Friedman replaced Ned Colletti.

Friedman took the solid farm system that Colletti left him with and, using analytics to measure his players’ potential, has continued down the path Colletti started.

Manager Dave Roberts has done a good job of adapting to Friedman’s style that emphasizes roster depth, versatile players and a strong-armed pitching staff that avoids walks and pitches to situations whether than relying on traditional starting and relief roles.

It hasn’t always been pretty and Roberts, in particular, has taken lots of heat for the Dodgers’ failure to win the World Series in 2017 and 2018.

The Dodgers lost in seven games to the sign-stealing Astros in 2017, dropping the seventh game after the Astros rocked Yu Darvish for five runs in two innings.

But the Dodgers hitting also failed them in that game seven.

The next year, the Dodgers were overwhelmed in five games by the Boston Red Sox. Their only win came on a Max Muncy home run in the bottom of the 18th inning of game three.

Kershaw went 1-2 in those two series, winning game one of the 2017 series but getting knocked around in game five after being spotted 4-0 and 7-4 leads against the Astros.

We now know the Astros knew what was coming in that game, but Kershaw has never been as dominant in the post-season as he has been in the regular season, much to the chagrin of many Dodgers fans.

With the game one win, he is now at .500 in post-season play (12-12) and the World Series (2-2). He figures to start again in game five, which may give him a chance to pitch the Dodgers to the championship they have craved the last eight seasons.

That’s nothing compared to the 32 years their fans have been waiting since the 1988 title.

That team was not as talented as this year’s model. They just got hot at the right time and rode a series-changing home run by Kirk Gibson and the right arm of Orel Hershiser to a surprising 4-1 series victory over the Oakland A’s after surprising the New York Mets in a seven-game National League Championship Series.

This year’s model has had World Series expectations ever since trading for Mookie Betts just before spring training opened last February.

Betts has been better than expected, providing lead-by-example direction for his teammates in addition to his playing talents, which are among the top five players in baseball.

He and the rest of the team are only three more wins from their goal.

TURNING POINT: The Rams and the Chargers enter the seventh week of the season facing crucial games this week.

The 1-4 Chargers are coming off their earlier-than-expected bye week after their schedule was altered by coronavirus infections on other teams. They face Jacksonville Oct. 25 at SoFi Stadium needing a win to get them pointed in the right direction.

Rookie quarterback Justin Herbert has been a surprise. He got thrust into action early than the Chargers anticipated because of a bizarre injury to starter Tyrod Taylor before the second game of the season.

Herbert has thrown for 1,195 yards and nine touchdowns in his four starts, with only three interceptions. However, the Chargers have lost all four.

After defeating the Cincinnati Bengals in their season opener (with Taylor starting at quarterback), the Chargers lost to the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in overtime and then lost three straight games to teams in the NFC South, the Carolina Panthers, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tom Brady, and the New Orleans Saints and Drew Brees.

Their schedule gets lighter with Jacksonville this week. The Jags are 1-5 and 0-3 on the road. The Chargers need a win to climb out of the cellar in the AFC West.

They also need to get a win under Herbert’s belt.

The Jags could be just what the doctor ordered.

The Rams’ prospects are looking much better than the Chargers at this point, but after getting beaten badly by the San Francisco 49ers, 24-16 (the final score doesn’t show how badly the Rams were dominated), the Rams need to turn things around before the Seattle Seahawks, at 5-0, run away from them and the rest of the division.

The Rams are 3-0 against the NFC East, the worst conference in the NFL during the first six weeks, and 0-2 against everybody else.

They face the Chicago Bears Oct. 26 in the Monday night game of the week, the first time SoFi Stadium will be used on back-to-back days. The Rams need a win against the 5-1 Bears just to show they can beat a good team.

The Bears have as many wins (five) as the entire NFC East at this point in the season.

In their two losses, the Rams fell behind Buffalo in the first half and their second-half comeback came up short.

Last week’s loss to the 49ers came because the Rams couldn’t stop the 49ers when they needed to.

Let’s hope they have more luck against the Bears.

THE NEW COACH: The Clippers finally announced their new coach this week and it didn’t come as much of a surprise.

Tyronn Lue had been the favorite to succeed Doc Rivers since Rivers and owner Steve Ballmer agreed to part ways.

Lue coached the Cleveland Cavaliers to the 2016 NBA title in his first year as a head coach. Most observers think LeBron James had more to do with that title than Lue did, but Lue has a tendency for being in the right place at the right time.

The Lakers won titles in his second and third years with the team in 2000 and 2001.

In a 10-year career, he played 554 games, averaging 8.5 points and 3.1 assists per game, but he was known as a heady player who got the most out of his size and talent and has been marked for coaching success since he retired after the 2009 season.

“The pieces we need are in place — committed ownership, smart management, and elite talent, on and off the court, in the NBA’s best market,” Lue said in a statement released by the Clippers. “My familiarity with the organization, particularly Mr. Ballmer …, confirmed this is where I want to be.

“We have work to do to become champions, but we have the motivation, the tools and the support to get there. I’m excited to get started.”

The Clippers’ roster did not adjust to the acquisition of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George very well last season and their exit in the second round of the NBA playoffs cost Doc Rivers his job.

Lue has shown he can handle superstars when he coached James with the Cavaliers. He will need similar magic if he is going to guide the Clippers to their first title ever.