By Don Wanlass
When I was growing up, there was nothing better than a pennant race at the end of the baseball season, especially if the Dodgers were part of it, and they usually were.
We have a good, old-fashioned pennant race this year in the National League Western Division and the Dodgers are in the middle of it with their longtime rival, the San Francisco Giants.
The Dodgers have been chasing the Giants for most of the season and now trail them by four games, with 42 games to play. For those of you who hate on the Giants, they aren’t going away.
And there’s a good reason the Giants are in the pennant race to stay and probably will be for several seasons. The Giants are built like the Dodgers: for success now and in the future.
The architect of the Giants roster is Farhan Zaidi, who replaced Bobby Evans in 2018 as the head of baseball operations for the Giants. For four years prior to that, Zahdi was second in command to Dodger President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman.
He helped Friedman continue what Ned Colettti had started with the Dodgers, and took that knowledge with him to the Giants. Then, after longtime manager Bruce Bochy retired after the 2019 season, Zahdi hired Gabe Kapler as the new Giants manager.
Kapler spent three years as the head of player development with the Dodgers and was reportedly the Dodgers’ second choice for manager when Dave Roberts was hired in 2015. After two marginal years with the Phillies (he was 161-163), Kapler replaced Bochy with the Giants.
There are similarities between the two teams. Both managers do a lot of platooning and versatility is stressed among position players.
The offensive philosophy of each team is to work the opposing pitcher, see a lot of pitches, take walks and hit the ball with power.
Like the Dodgers, the Giants use their entire 40-man roster and have major league depth at the top level of the minor leagues, a phone call and plane flight away from helping the big club.
The Giants have a blend of veterans who have been with the team for many years (catcher Buster Posey, first baseman Brandon Belt and shortstop Brandon Crawford), developing players like outfielder Mike Yastrzemski and veterans they have brought in from other places like Evan Longoria and Kris Bryant, a recent acquisition from the Chicago Cubs.
And their pitching staff is deep.
The Dodgers and Giants only face each other three more times this season, Sept. 3-5 in San Francisco. Those will be important games, but I doubt they will determine the winner and loser in the division race. That battle will likely go down to the last week of the season, unless the Dodgers starting rotation totally falls apart.
Back in March, all everyone talked about was the depth in the Dodgers pitching staff. They had seven starting pitchers to fit into a five-man rotation.
Now, they are down to two.
The season started with Clayton Kershaw, the newly acquired Trevor Bauer, Walker Buehler, Julio Urias, Dave Price, Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin as the Dodgers starters.
Price, a former Cy Young Award winner, agreed to go to the bullpen to allow the Dodgers to continue developing youngsters May and Gonsolin into starting pitchers. But Gonsolin had shoulder problems during spring training that are still bothering him and May was lost for 18 months after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
The Dodgers began using bullpen games that featured as many as seven or eight relief pitchers to patch up the leaky rotation that got worse when Bauer was placed on administrative leave after sexual assault accusations surfaced in early July.
Then Kershaw’s elbow swelled up. The Dodgers began stretching out Price, traded for Max Scherzer and Danny Duffy at the trading deadline and then signed aging left-hander Cole Hamels.
Then Urias got hit by a pitch that bruised his calf. The team was looking for an excuse to have Urias miss a start or two because he has already pitched more innings this year then he has in any season at any level.
Then the Dodgers learned that Duffy wouldn’t be ready to pitch until mid-September (if at all) and that Hamels got hurt after throwing a simulated game.
The Dodgers now find themselves with three healthy starters — Scherzer, Buehler and Price — and are using bullpen games two or three times a week.
That’s a good recipe for decimating your bullpen.
Surprisingly, the Dodgers bullpen as pitched well lately. After I called the bullpen the team’s weak link a week ago, the bullpen has pitched 33 1/3 innings in the last seven games (almost five innings a game) while allowing 7 earned runs, 18 hits, striking out 40 and walking 17. The combined earned run average for that stretch is 1.89 and the Dodgers are 6-1.
But they gained no ground against the Giants, who also are 6-1 in their last seven games.
The Dodgers and Giants are the two best teams in the major leagues and both are given 99.9% chances to make the playoffs by Baseball Reference.com. That website says the Dodgers have a 14.5% chance of winning the World Series. The Giants have an 11.9% chance of winning the World Series.
Hold on to your seats. The final six weeks of the regular season are going to be interesting.
ALL STAR WEEK: Los Angeles will host the Major League Soccer All Star Game at 6 p.m. Aug. 25 at Banc of California Stadium in Exposition Park. The game this year features a team of MSL All Stars against all stars from Liga MX, Mexico’s leading soccer league.
It should draw a full house.
On Aug. 24, the MLS will host an All Star Skills challenge featuring the best of the best from both all-star teams.
LAFC’s Carlos Vela and the Galaxy’s Javier Hernandez will be two of the eight players representing the MSL all stars.
Vela and Hernandez also will appear the next night playing for the MLS team. Hernandez will be joined by defender Julian Araujo from the Galaxy. Vela will be joined by forward Diego Rossi, midfielder Eduard Atuesta and defender Jesus David Murillo from LAFC.
Thirteen players of the 28-man roster were selected by a combined vote of players, media members and fans, 13 more were chosen by All Star coach Bob Bradley, who coaches LAFC, and the final two were selected by MLS Commissioner Don Garber.
Vela and Hernandez were voted onto the team. Araujo, Atuesta, Rossi and Murillo were selected by Bradley.
The Roldan brothers from Pico Rivera, Christian and Alex, who both play for the Seattle Sounders, were also voted onto the team.
It’s been a busy summer for the Roldans. In addition to their MLS schedule, they have spent time playing on the U.S. and El Salvador national teams that played in the CONCACAF Gold Cup Tournament. Christian played for the United States, Alex played for El Salvador, where their parents were born.
ODDS AND ENDS: The first game at SoFi Stadium that featured fans drew mixed reviews. The stadium itself was magnificent to most observers.
Getting in was a different story. A season ticket holder said it took him 2 ½ hours to get inside the parking lot and he had preferred parking. Once inside, he said there wasn’t enough security and there were fights throughout the stadium.
On the field, the Chargers’ second and third stringers defeated the Rams’ second and third stringers, 13-6, in a game that was every bit as exciting as the final score would indicate.
Someday someone is going to sue the NFL for fraud for charging regular season prices for exhibition games.
The Rams practice twice against the Las Vegas Raiders this week before flying to Nevada to play the Raiders Aug. 21. The Chargers host the San Francisco 49ers at SoFi Stadium at 4:30 p.m. Aug. 22. …
The Sparks have resumed their season after the break for the Olympics and are trying to get into the playoffs. The Sparks are 8-13 after defeating the Atlanta Dream, 85-80 in overtime Aug. 17 and need to leapfrog a couple of teams to qualify for the eight-team playoffs that begin in a little more than a month.
With 11 games to play, the Sparks are three games behind fifth-place Phoenix and also can catch Chicago, New York or Dallas.
Nneka Ogwumike is back in the lineup and could be essential to the Sparks’ playoff chances down the stretch.