Dodgers, Lakers take steps to improve their chances

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SPORTS DIGEST

By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

The Dodgers and Lakers have something in common, which probably is why they are the two most popular sports teams in the city.

Both expect to compete for championships — not division titles — every year. And the actions of their front offices the last week showed that winning it all is everything.

At Major League Baseball’s trade deadline, the Dodgers pulled off a major trade, stealing Washington Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer from the San Diego and adding all-star shortstop Trea Turner in the same deal for four prospects.

One of those prospects was Keibert Ruiz, labeled a can’t-miss catching prospect. Ruiz was expendable because the Dodgers have a young catcher already on the big league roster, Will Smith, and another, Diego Cartaya, who is playing at Single A minor league affiliate Rancho Cucamonga.

Team President Andrew Friedman could afford to include Ruiz in the deal because Cartaya, who is from Venezuela and only 19, should be ready for the big leagues in a couple of years if he keeps progressing.

The Dodgers also let go Josiah Gray, their top pitching prospect, because Friedman wants to win this year and there are more pitchers coming up behind Gray.

Scherzer may only be a two-month rental. He is 37 and eligible for free agency at the end of the season. Turner has another year left on his contract and automatically becomes insurance for Corey Seager, who also is eligible for free agency at the end of the year.

Turner also can play second base and the outfield — the Dodgers value versatility as much as any team — and adds the element of speed and base running, with a career high of 46 stolen bases in 2017.

He and Mookie Betts will make a strong one-two combination at the top of the batting order, providing plenty of opportunities for Justin Turner and Max Muncy to drive in runs.

The Dodgers didn’t stop at Scherzer and Turner. They acquired left-handed pitcher Danny Duffy for players to be named later from the Kansas City Royals and announced Aug. 4 that they were signing free agent left-hander Cole Hamels for the rest of the season.

Duffy and Hamels have both pitched in the World Series, although neither is ready to help the Dodgers immediately. Duffy is getting over a flexor muscle problem in his pitching arm and Hamels hasn’t pitched all season and has thrown exactly three and a third innings since 2019.

Both are insurance for the Dodgers vaunted rotation, which is down to Walker Buehler, Scherzer and Julio Urias right now. Clayton Kershaw is still on the injured list with elbow inflammation, David Price has been inconsistent in his few starting opportunities this year and so has Tony Gonsolin, who went back on the injured list after his last start.

Friedman wants to make sure manager Dave Roberts has enough weapons come October. He may have failed to improve the Dodgers bullpen at the trade deadline, but if Corey Knebel can get healthy, the Dodgers will add a former all-star to the bullpen sometime this month to go with Kelly Jansen, Blake Trienen, Joe Kelly and Jimmy Nelson at the back of the bullpen. The Dodgers also will have whatever starters aren’t going to be in the post-season rotation to boost an obvious weakness.

You won’t have to worry about seeing Garrett Cleavinger, Edwin Uceta, Alex Vesia, Yefry Ramirez and Darien Nuñez coming out of the bullpen once October gets here.

Friedman’s recent moves don’t mean the Dodgers will waltz to another World Series championship. The San Francisco Giants have been leading the National League West for three months and don’t appear to be going anywhere.

The Giants also are getting some injured players back (three-fourths of their starting infield was on the injured list recently) and the Dodgers will have to play like they did the first three weeks of the season when they were 13-2 if they are going to catch their foes from the Bay Area.

Trea Turner makes the Dodgers offense deeper and gives Roberts an option if Cody Bellinger can’t return to his 2018 and 2019 form. Bellinger had offseason shoulder surgery, broke his leg in the fourth game of the season and then pulled a hamstring after the broken leg healed.

If he can’t get it going (he’s hitting .165 with five home runs as of Aug. 3), the Dodgers can still put out a lineup of Betts, Trea Turner, Justin Turner, Seager, Muncy, Smith, A.J. Pollock and Chris Taylor as a starting eight. That’s a pretty solid lineup. The Dodgers are a better team, though, if Bellinger is swinging the bat like he used to.

Getting him on track the last two months of the season will make the Dodgers even more formidable in October.

ACTIVE FREE AGENCY: The Lakers entered NBA free agency with little room under the salary cap and only a few players guaranteed to come back.

Of course, when two of those players are LeBron James and Anthony Davis, it isn’t hard to recruit others who want to join them in search of a championship.

Although none of the transactions that have been announced are official until Aug. 6, the Lakers have added Russell Westbrook, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, Trevor Ariza, Wayne Ellington, Kent Bazemore, Kendrick Nunn and Malik Monk to team with James, Davis and returning players Marc Gasol, Talen Horton-Tucker and Alfonzo McKinnie.

Westbrook and Anthony are future hall of famers who would like to add a championship to their resumés. Howard and Ariza have won titles with the Lakers before, Howard in 2020 and Ariza in 2010.

Ellington and Bazemore are solid outside shooters, a glaring weakness for the Lakers last season, and Nunn and Monk provide some youth and energy.

The Lakers have parted ways with Alex Caruso, Dennis Schroder and Andre Drummond (free agency) and Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell (the trade for Westbrook), but general manager Rob Pelinka has improved the team considerably, making the Lakers contenders again, just where they want to be.

There are still some things to worry about. James, Howard, Anthony, Ariza and Gasol are all on the wrong side of 35 and Westbrook, Ellington and Bazemore are all older than 30.

As good as Davis is, he still hasn’t proved he can stay healthy all season, but Horton-Tucker, Monk and Nunn provide the Lakers with some young, energetic players who haven’t yet tapped their potential.

Horton-Tucker averaged 9 points a game last season averaging 20 minutes a game. He showed an ability to create his own shots and only needs to get more consistent to become a quality NBA player.

Monk averaged more than 11 points a game in 20 minutes off the bench for Charlotte last year. A shooting guard, he was a one-and-done player for Kentucky in 2016-17 and spent four years with Charlotte. He made 40% of his three-point attempts last year, which should help the Lakers in 2021-22.

Nunn played for Miami against the Lakers in the 2020 NBA Finals in the Orlando bubble.

In two seasons with Miami, he averaged 15 points a game while shooting 36% from behind the three-point arc.

With 13 players on the roster not counting any rookies or additional free agents the team might sign, Pelinka has put together a roster that head coach Frank Vogel should be able to turn into a contender in the tough Western Conference.

A lot will depend on how much James, Anthony and the rest of the old timers on the roster have left in the tank and if Davis can stay healthy.

But at least Lakers fans will know when the team starts training camp in September that the Lakers will have a chance to be very good next season, if not great.

ODDS AND ENDS: Football is just around the corner. Actually, it’s closer than that. The Steelers and Cowboys play in the annual Hall of Fame game Aug. 5.

The Chargers and the Rams have opened training game in preparation for their first preseason game Aug. 14 when they will play before a live audience for the first time at SoFi Stadium. Both local teams are optimistic about the season, but you can say that about 28 of the NFL’s 32 teams at this time every season.

We will know more in five weeks. …

The Los Angeles Galaxy announced this week they would honor the best player in franchise history, Landon Donovan, with a statue outside Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson.

Donovon’s statue will join David Beckham’s. Donovan also will be inducted into the Galaxy’s ring of honor alongside Beckham, Mauricio Cienfuegos, Doug Hamilton and Cobi Jones.

The statue will be unveiled Oct. 3 before a game with LAFC.

Donovan scored 113 goals and assisted on another 107 goals in 253 games with the Galaxy from 2005 to 20014 and again in 2016. The Galaxy won four Major League Soccer titles during his tenure with the team in 2005, 2011, 2012 and 2014.

It’s a fitting tribute to a great player. …

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