By Don Wanlass
This is the time of the year when it is fun to write about sports.
The college football season starts this week, pro football is just around the corner and the baseball pennant races are starting to heat up.
Major League Soccer is pausing for its all star game this week and the Sparks are gearing up for a final push toward a playoff berth in the WNBA.
We’ll start with the baseball pennant race that sees the Dodgers 2½ games behind the Giants with 36 games to play.
The Dodgers cut a game and a half off the Giants’ lead in the last week and are getting Mookie Betts back from the injured list this week with Clayton Kershaw still to come (hopefully). Those are two pretty good additions to the roster heading into September.
The Dodgers only have three more chances against the Giants, next weekend in San Francisco. The Dodgers have 24 more games to play against teams with winning records, the Giants have 23 such games, so the schedules are pretty even down the stretch.
The Dodgers have a stronger overall roster, but they’ve had that all year and still have trailed the Giants since early May.
The Dodgers may have won eight straight Western Division titles, but the Giants are only a few years removed from winning three World Series in five years and catcher Buster Posey, shortstop Brandon Crawford and first baseman Brandon Bolt all were members of the last two championship teams in 2012 and 2014, so the Giants know what it takes to win in the postseason.
If Kershaw can get (and stay) healthy, the Dodgers would be favored in a head-to-head matchup with the Giants, but the Dodgers want to pass the Giants down the stretch to avoid the one-game wild card playoff, which can alter a team’s pitching rotation for the divisional playoff series that follows.
That is if they even survive the wild card game, which is always a crapshoot. Both the Dodgers and the Giants will play through the month of September trying to avoid the wild card at all costs.
BRUINS DEBUT: The UCLA Bruins get a jump on most other college football teams, opening their season against Hawaii at the Rose Bowl Aug. 28. Kickoff is at 12:30 p.m. and the game will be televised nationally on ESPN.
This is a make-or-break season for Bruins head coach Chip Kelly, who is entering his fourth season at UCLA.
Kelly is 10-21 in three season after going 46-7 in four years with Oregon Ducks, before spending four years in the NFL where he was 28-35 with one playoff appearance.
Kelly was considered an innovator during his stint at Oregon, but he needs a winning season at UCLA do reestablish himself as a winning coach. He will ride the right arm and legs of senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson as long as Thompson-Robinson can stay healthy.
Thompson-Robinson was highly recruited out of Las Vegas four years ago, but hasn’t become the great quarterback Kelly hoped he would become. If there’s a bright spot in his checkered career, it is performances against USC the last two seasons.
Last year he completed 30 of 36 passes for four touchdowns against the Trojans. But the Bruins defense couldn’t stop the Trojans in the fourth quarter and the Trojans rallied from a 35-23 deficit to win 43-38.
The year before, Thompson-Robinson completed 26 of 44 passes for 367 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 64 more yards with a touchdown, but the Bruins couldn’t stop Kedon Slovis, who threw for more than 500 yards and four touchdowns in a 52-35 win for the Trojans.
Thompson-Robinson will have to break in a new running back this year after Demetric Felton graduated. Brittain Brown gained more than 500 yards last year and will be given every chance to show he can handle the running load.
Receivers Kyle Phillips and Greg Dulcich return as do all five starters on the offensive line, so the Bruins shouldn’t have any problems moving the ball.
The problem will be stopping the other team. Last year’s Bruins gave up 35 points a game and they will need to cut down on that. The secondary has experience and depth and the leading pass rushers, Caled Johnson and Bo Calvert, return to Kelly has the foundation to be improved this year.
Whether it is enough to jump ahead of Utah and USC in the Pac 12 South remains to be seen.
After what should be an easy opener against Hawaii, the Bruins will find out how good they really are Sept. 4 when they host LSU at the Rose Bowl.
POOR EXHIBITIONS: One of these days, the National Football League will stop pretending their preseason football games are nothing but a chance to make the owners more money.
Once upon a time, NFL preseason games were used to give teams a chance to mesh on the field while giving young players a chance to show what they can do.
Nowadays, most coaches choose to hold their best players out of the games, not wanting to risk injuries to key players in games they don’t matter to anybody except the owners counting the gate receipts and players fighting for roster spots.
Rams coach Sean McVey may have started this trend years ago and he certainly is continuing it. He doesn’t even play his backup quarterback during the preseason.
Thus Ram fans who attended the game with the Las Vegas Raiders Aug. 21 got to watch Bryce Perkins play quarterback the entire game.
Perkins, who started his college career at Arizona State six years ago, was signed by the Rams as an undrafted free agent in April 2020 out of the University of Virginia. He spent last year on the practice squad.
He split time with Devlin Hodges in the Rams’ preseason opener against the Chargers Aug. 14, but took all the snaps in the Raiders 17-16 win. Perkins is athletic, can make plays with his feet as well as his arm, but the Rams are in trouble if they have to play Perkins this year because it will mean that Matt Stafford and his backup John Wolford are hurt or are playing horribly. Neither is an option McVey is anticipating.
Perkins has a good heritage. His father Bruce Perkins also attended Arizona State and played a little bit in the NFL. His uncle, Don Perkins, was the starting fullback for the Dallas Cowboys for eight years in the 1960s and 70s.
Older brother Paul was a running back at UCLA and spent a couple of years in the NFL.
Perkins will probably spend this year on the Rams practice squad, unless he makes an impression on another team that needs a better backup quarterback than they already have.
I have nothing against Perkins. But if he bought a ticket to an NFL preseason game, I would want to see Stafford play a little while and Wolford, who needs live snaps in an NFL game in case Stafford gets hurt this season, play most of the game.
But that isn’t how the NFL operates anymore
BITS AND PIECES: The Major League Soccer season resumes this weekend after breaking for the Aug. 25 all star game, which pitted a team of league all stars against an all-star team from Liga MX, Mexico’s leading soccer league.
The Galaxy and LAFC resume the season against each other Aug. 28 at Banc of California Stadium. Game time is 4 p.m.
The Galaxy is in fourth place in the MLS Western Conference, seven points behind the conference leading Seattle Sounders, but only two points behind Colorado.
LAFC is in ninth place, nine points behind the Galaxy but only four points behind sixth-place Real Salt Lake.
Carlos Vela has been hobbled by injuries most of this season for LAFC and he left their last game with another leg injury. His status is uncertain.
The same goes for Galaxy forward Javier Hernandez, who missed the all-star game with an injury that has hampered him much of the season.
The Galaxy-LAFC may be the best local rivalry this side of USC and UCLA. …
The Los Angeles Sparks had a four-game winning streak snapped Aug. 24 when they lost to the Washington Mystics, 78-68. The Sparks are in the midst of a six-game road trip that sees them facing the Connecticut Suns Aug. 26 and 28, the Indiana Fever Aug. 31 and the Minnesota Lynx Sept. 2, before returning home to face Connecticut again Sept. 9.
The Sparks are 1-14 on the season, in eighth place in the WNBA with eight games to play.
If the season ended right now, the Sparks would be in the playoffs, but they are tied with Dallas at 10-14 and Washington is right behind them with a 9-14 mark. …