Ohtani shines in the All Star Game spotlight

By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

The summer doldrums for sports are here.

Baseball, with the exception of all-star activities, is taking most of the week off.  

We’re still more than a month away from the start of the NFL season. 

The NBA Finals are going on, but it’s Phoenix against Milwaukee and that’s hard to get real excited about. The Summer Olympics are a week away from starting, but those don’t seem to be the big deal the Olympics used to be.

But us sports fans are still better off than we were a year ago when we were in month number four of nothing going on.

More than six months into 2021, one of the biggest stories is coming from Anaheim where Shohei Ohtani is all of a sudden the face of baseball.

Baseball shined its spotlight on Ohtani for all it is worth this week at the All Star Game in Denver. Ohtani is the first player ever to be selected to the All Star Game as a pitcher and player.

Voters elected him the starting designated hitter for the American League. He also was selected as a pitcher. Realizing they have something on their hands that is a cross between Bo Jackson and Babe Ruth, baseball went all in.

Ohtani was the leadoff hitter in the American League’s batting order and then took the mound in the bottom of the first inning.

For the record, Ohtani did nothing earth shattering in the All Star Game. He retired the National League hitters in order in his only inning on the mound and grounded out twice in his only two at bats.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who homered in the third inning and drove in another run, was selected the game’s most valuable player but Ohtani was the brightest star of the night.

The same thing happened the night before the game. Ohtani was eliminated in the first round of the home run hitting contest — it took Juan Soto two overtime sessions to beat baseball’s new darling — but Ohtani still overshadowed Pete Alonso, who won for the second straight year.

The Angels resume their season against Seattle July 16. They are nine games behind Houston in the American League, but they have won seven of their last 10 games and are playing their best ball of the season.

And, they get another superstar — Mike Trout — back soon, they hope. Trout used to be the biggest star of the game, but he’s been injured for more than two months. 

If he regains his all-star form, the Angels might have a chance to do some damage.

Outside of Ohtani, their starting rotation is weak and the bullpen isn’t much better, but with young hitters like Jared Walsh and David Fletcher proving they can hit major league pitching, the Angels might be able to outhit most of their opponents the second half of the season.

And Trout can just go about his business. Ohtani is taking most of the spotlight away. It could make for an interesting second half of the season in Anaheim.

HO HUM: The Dodgers begin the second half of the season two games behind the San Francisco Giants in the National League West with their starting rotation is shambles.

Remember back in March when the Dodgers had seven starting pitchers to squeeze into a five-man rotation. Well, that was four months ago.

Depth is a great thing to have and manager Dave Roberts wonders where all his depth went.

Tony Gonsolin is healthy now, but he developed shoulder trouble in the spring and started the season on the injured list. He is just starting to get his arm stretched out enough to last five innings in a game. Dustin May was lost for the season (and probably next season, too) to Tommy John surgery in May.

David Price, who won the American League Cy Young Award in 2012, volunteered to pitch out of the bullpen in the spring and the Dodgers took him up on the offer. They are now stretching him out so he can rejoin the starting rotation, probably next week against the Giants.

Price is being rushed back into the rotation because Clayton Kershaw was placed on the injured list last week with forearm inflammation and Trevor Bauer was suspended by Major League Baseball until a sexual assault investigation can be completed.

Kershaw should be back soon, after tests showed no structural damage to his valuable left arm. Bauer, who signed a contract that could have two more years at $85 million to go, may never pitch another game for the Dodgers.

That leaves Walker Buehler and Julio Urias the last two starters from the spring left standing. 

The Dodgers have been using bullpen games throughout the season to give their starters an occasional extra day between starts. They are now doing it out of necessity.

Josiah Gray, the top pitching prospect in the farm system, had a bad arm earlier in the season and is just getting his season in the minors restarted. He might be ready by September.

For now, Roberts will go with Buehler, Urias, Gonsolin, Price and Kershaw and hope the bullpen can continue to get nine to 12 outs a game.

The offense continues to blow hot and cold. The three-game series with the Arizona Diamondbacks leading into the All Star break was the Dodgers season in a nutshell.

The Diamondbacks, who have the worst record in baseball and lost 23 straight road games last month, won the series opener, 5-2 July 9. The Dodgers had only five hits and went 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position.

The Dodgers then erupted for 22 runs the next night, defeating the D-backs, 22-1, hitting eight home runs and two grand slams in the process. They went 8 for 17 with runners in scoring position.

The bats went back to sleep for seven innings the next day and Arizona took a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning. The Dodgers bats awoke in the bottom of the eighth and they scored three runs to tie the game.

Max Muncy then hit a three-run home run to win the game in the bottom of the ninth. The Dodgers were 3 for 10 with runners in scoring position in that game. All three hits came in the eighth and ninth innings.

When the Dodgers hit in the clutch, they are almost unbeatable, but they are streaky hitters. They only scored in nine of the 26 innings of the Diamondbacks’ series.

And with the starting pitching rotation shaky at best as the second half of the season starts, the Dodgers are going to have to hit if they are going to win a ninth straight National league West title.

NOW WE KNOW: The Clippers lost to the Phoenix Suns in the NBA Western Conference finals, mostly because Kawhi Leonard had an injured knee. That’s all the Clippers were saying during the playoffs.

This week we found out how serious the injury was. Leonard had surgery to repair a partially torn ligament.

He has three months to recover before the start of the next season. Whether he will be totally healed by then is anybody’s guess. Knowing Leonard’s penchant for babying his body, I would doubt it.

Leonard must decide in the next three weeks whether to exercise the option for the last year of his contract with the Clippers (he will earn $38 million if he sticks around) or re-enter the free agent market.

If he opts out, he could resign with the Clippers for four years and $188 million, or sign elsewhere for up to four years and $176 million.

The questions that need to be asked are will any other team want Leonard if they don’t know what they are getting. Are the Clippers interested in keeping their star happy by giving him the $188 million over four years? 

With those questions hanging over his head, will Leonard decide to play next year for the paltry sum of $38 million and hope he’s healthy enough to sign a max contract a year from now, when he will be an old 31 by NBA standards.

It’s a nice dilemma for Leonard to have as he recovers from knee surgery.

LOCAL BOY SHINES: For most of his soccer career, Alex Roldan has been overshadowed by his older brother, Christian. 

When they were at El Rancho High School in Pico Rivera, Christian was the Gatorade National High School Player of the Year in 2013. 

When it came to going to college, Christian went to Washington, a Pac 12 school. Alex went to Seattle University, which plays in the Western Athletic Conference.

Professionally, Alex followed Christian to the Seattle Sounders and assisted on a goal by big brother Christian in their first game together.

Christian is now playing for the U.S. Men’s National Team in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Alex didn’t make the U.S. team, so he’s playing for El Salvador (their parents were both born in EL Salvador).

Christian didn’t play as the U.S. defeated Haiti, 1-0 July 11. 

El Salvador played Guatemala July 11. Alex didn’t start, but he entered the game in the 65th minute as a midfield substitute. 

Sixteen minutes later, he scored the first goal of the game converting a pass from just outside the penalty box, beating the Guatemala goalie on the right side.

El Salvador went on to win, 2-0.

It will be interesting to see if the brothers play against each other Sept. 2 when El Salvador plays the U.S. in a World Cup qualifier. They could face each other before then, depending on how each team does in the Gold Cup.

The group stage ends July 20 with the quarterfinals being played July 24 and 25. The top two teams from each group advances to the quarterfinals. El Salvador has group games remaining against Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago. A win against either one will probably advance El Salvador, since Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago played to a draw in their opening game.

The U.S. is in Group B, which includes Canada and Martinique in addition to Haiti.

There is a good chance the Roldan brothers will meet before Sept. 2.