Dodgers seek to repeat 2020 comeback vs. Braves

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SPORTS DIGEST

By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

The Dodgers were here last year, too.

Down 2-1 against the Braves in the National Leagues Championship Series, they lost game 4 and were on the verge of elimination when they turned things around. They won three straight against the Braves to advance to the World Series and then beat the Tampa Bay Rays in six games to win their first World Series in 32 years.

They know how to do this. They just like driving their fans — and manager Dave Roberts — crazy in the process.

The Dodgers are only down 2 games to 1 because Cody Bellinger sparked a four-run rally in the eighth inning Oct. 19 with a three-run home run that tied the score 5-5.

Three batters later, Mookie Betts doubled home Chris Taylor with the go-ahead run and the Dodgers had survived.

However the rest of the series goes, the Atlanta Braves know the Dodgers will battle them to the end. They did it last year when Bellinger hit a tie-breaking solo home run in the seventh inning of game seven that gave the Dodgers a 4-3 win and sent them to the World Series.

That Bellinger got another clutch home run shouldn’t be surprising, except this year’s Bellinger has rarely looked like the Bellinger who was the 2019 National League most valuable player.

Bellinger had shoulder surgery after the World Series last year (he hurt the shoulder celebrating with Kike Hernandez that game-winning home run), and missed most of spring training rehabilitating his shoulder.

Then, in the first week of the season he collided with an Oakland A’s pitcher and broke a bone in his lower leg. He missed two months of the season while that healed. Then he pulled a hamstring and missed another three weeks.

Somewhere he lost his sweet swing and became a player who looked futile trying to hit most of the time.

He finished this season with a .165 batting average with only 10 home runs and 39 runs batted in. Many fans were clamoring for him to be benched and traded this offseason.

Indeed, Bellinger might have been a pinch hitter in this postseason if Max Muncy hadn’t dislocated his left elbow in the last game of the season against the Milwaukee Brewers.

Muncy is still recovering and Bellinger has been the first baseman in his absence, Gavin Lux taking his place in center field against right-handed pitching.

Given a chance to play this postseason, Bellinger has made the most of it.

In nine postseason games, Bellinger is hitting .250 with the home run and six RBI. He has scored four times and stolen three bases.

Without Bellinger’s heroics, the Dodgers might be on thin ice. It would have been almost impossible for them to come back from an 0-3 deficit in the series, especially with games six and seven back in Atlanta this weekend.

But if nothing else, the Dodgers are resilient. They bounce back like no other team in recent memory.

Another person who has bounced back big time is closer Kenley Jansen. Jansen blew two saves during a three-game series with the Giants in July and Dodgers fans wanted him banned from his closer role at the least. Most wanted him traded or released.

But Roberts stuck with Jansen and he hasn’t had a blown save since, finishing the year with 38 saves, the second most in the major leagues. He mowed down the Braves in the ninth for the save in game three.

In six playoff appearances, Jansen has struck out 12 batters in five innings, surrendering only two hits.

If the Dodgers can advance to the World Series for the fourth time in five seasons, Roberts might start getting some credit for his managing abilities.

He has a solid, expensive roster to lead and he gets a lot of help making out his lineup from the front office.

Roberts is a good soldier, taking the blame when things don’t go right (like game 2 when he had Julio Urias pitch the eighth inning with disastrous consequences) and giving players the credit when things go right.

He has plenty of critics online, but the Dodgers keep winning with him and they are only seven wins away from another world championships. They still have to overcome the Braves to win another National League pennant first.

But the Dodgers know they can do it because they did it last year. And the Braves know it, too.

WORK IN PROGRESS: That is the assessment after game one of the Lakers season.

The Lakers led for three quarters in their season opener Oct. 19 against the Golden State Warrriors.

Unfortunately, they play four quarters in the NBA and the Warriors outscored the Lakers 38-29 in that quarter and won 121-114 on a night when Steph Curry missed 16 of 21 shots.

His Lakers counterpart, Russell Westbrook, missed 9 of 13 shots in his Lakers debut as the Lakers looked a lot like last year’s team when Anthony Davis and LeBron James provided most of the offense.

On opening night 2021, James and Davis were the only Lakers to score in double figures. That helps pads their stats, but it is not a recipe for winning.

James scored 34 points and Davis had 33.

Carmelo Anthony was third in points scored with 9 points in 26 minutes. He missed 6 of 9 shots.

DeAndre Jordan started at center with Dwight Howard backing him up. They each played 12 minutes, meaning Davis played center for half the game.

He doesn’t want to play center, but the Lakers are a better team with him at center and the sooner coach Frank Vogel and Davis realize that, the sooner the Lakers will be putting their best five players on the court at a time.

Westbrook, who averaged a triple double last season, didn’t reach double figures in any category. He finished with 8 points, 4 assists and 5 rebounds, with 4 of the team’s 17 turnovers.

James and Rajon Rondo both had five assists, although the Lakers didn’t move the ball well.

As a team, they had only 21 assists on 45 made shots. By contrast, the Warriors had 30 assists on 41 made shots, with Curry recording a triple double.

There are 81 games left in the season and Vogel will get things figured out in the next couple of months. The Lakers have plenty of good basketball players on their roster, but a lot of them are long in the tooth by basketball standards.

It’s too early to predict what this work in progress will turn out to be. Vogel and general manager Rob Pelinka have their work cut out for them.

ODDS AND ENDS: The Rams took a step forward and the Chargers took a step back Oct. 17.

The Chargers traditionally don’t play well on the East Coast, especially in games that start at 10 a.m. West Coast time. Last week was no exception in Baltimore as the Ravens made Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert look like a second-year player in a 34-6 victory.

Herbert completed 22 of 39 passes for 195 yards and the Chargers couldn’t get anything going running the football, either.

The defense surrendered 27 first downs and Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson was hard to stop, rushing for 51 yards and passing for 167 more. He threw two interceptions, but the Chargers couldn’t capitalize on those mistakes.

The bright spot is that the Chargers, at 4-2, are tied for first in the AFC West entering their bye week. The bad news is they have two weeks before they can get the bad taste of the loss to the Ravens out of their mouths. …

The Rams, on the other hand, methodically mowed down the hapless New York Giants, 38-11. The game was so lopsided that John Wolford got a chance to play quarterback in the fourth quarter.

Matthew Stafford passed for 251 yards and 4 touchdowns, Darrell Henderson gained 78 yards on the ground and scored twice and Cooper Kupp caught 9 passes for 144 yards and two more scores as the Rams dominated the Giants offensively after trailing 3-0 at the end of the first quarter.

The defense accounted for 4 sacks and 4 turnovers.

Jared Goff brings his winless Detroit Lions to town this week in what should be another easy week for the Rams, who still trail the Arizona Cardinals by a game in the NFC West. …

Most years, UCLA’s win over Washington Oct. 16 would be a big deal. But the Huskies are 2-4 this year, so the 5-2 Bruins win should have been expected.

Tailback transfer Zach Charbonnet gained 132 yards running the ball and quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson accounted for 270 yards in the air and on the ground and all three touchdowns for the Bruins.

A seven-point win this week at the Rose Bowl against Oregon, now that would be something to shout about. …

Watching the baseball playoffs, it’s interesting to think about how good the Dodgers could have been this year if they had kept Kike Hernandez and Joc Pederson, two players who made major contributions to the Dodgers during their careers here.

Hernandez has become the Red Sox starting center fielder in the playoffs after starting the season as their second baseman. During the regular season he hit .250 with 20 home runs and 60 RBI after signing with Boston as a free agent last winter.

But Hernandez has really stepped it up in the playoffs. He is 19 for 44 (a .432 average) in the postseason with 5 home runs and 9 RBI.

Pederson, who was acquired by the Braves in July after signing with the Chicago Cubs as a free agent last winter, is hitting .368 in the playoffs with 3 home runs and 8 RBI.

The Dodgers didn’t really offer either Hernandez or Pederson contracts last offseason. Both wanted to play everyday and the Dodgers considered Pederson a platoon outfielder against right-handed pitchers and Hernandez a super utility player who was valuable for his versatility.

Both are good players to have in the clubhouse and their new teams are happy to have them.

Also performing well for Boston is Alex Verdugo, the Dodgers best prospect three years ago who they traded as part of the Mookie Betts deal prior to the 2020 season.

It shows the kind of organizational depth the Dodgers have and why they are in the playoffs for the ninth straight year and may be headed for the World Series for the fourth time in five years.

Now, if only the front office will get out of the way and let their players play. …

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