SPORTS DIGEST: Dodgers Are A Week Away From A Game That Matters

Three and half months late, the 2020 Major League Baseball season will start July 23 with the Los Angeles Dodgers hosting the San Francisco Giants in an empty Dodger Stadium, a few hours after the Washington Nationals and New York Yankees get things underway on the East Coast.

The Dodgers were one of the favorites to win the World Series back in March when spring training was halted by the coronavirus and they still are expected to be among the contenders, even though left-handed starter David Price has decided he will sit the season out.

A pitcher the caliber of Price might leave a gaping hole in the starting rotation of most teams. After all, he is a former Cy Young Award winner who was counted on to be the Dodgers number three starter.

But the Dodgers are so deep in starting pitching that team President Andrew Friedman and manager Dave Roberts have the luxury of deciding who to plug in to the spot.

Left-hander Julio Urias will probably move up from the fourth starter’s spot, letting Roberts and Friedman pick from Alex Wood, Ross Stripling, and youngsters Dustin May and Tony Gosselin for the fourth and fifth rotation spots. That’s a nice dilemma for the Dodgers to have.

With the coronavirus-shortened season cut to 60 games, the National league will use the designated hitter this year. That makes the Dodgers’ offense even more formidable than it was going to be.

Roberts can count on Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, Corey Seager and Max Muncy being in the lineup every day. That leaves Joc Pederson and A.J. Pollock to fight for playing time in left field, Gavin Lux, Chris Taylor and Kike Hernandez at second base and young players Matt Beaty and Edwin Rios waiting for a chance to step in.

Beaty had 9 home runs and 46 runs batted in with 249 at bats last year while splitting time between first base and left field as a rookie.

Rios was called up from Oklahoma City in September. In 47 at bats, he hit 4 home runs and drove in 8 runs with a 1.010 OPS, which combines on-base and slugging percentages.

He hit 31 home runs and drove in 91 runs at Oklahoma City in 104 games and mashed the ball during spring training in Arizona before things were shut down.

The way Friedman and Roberts like to move players around, expect Rios to get a chance to play at first or third base as well as designated hitter.

The Dodgers’ weakest link is still the bullpen.

Closer Kenley Jansen had the worst year of his career last year and still saved 33 games. Jansen was late reporting to summer camp because he had contracted COVID-19 and he won’t be in-tip-top shape next week.

If he can still close games, the Dodgers will be in good shape because they have enough arms to get from the starting rotation to the ninth inning. If Jansen can’t do it anymore, than the Dodgers will have to make do with Pedro Baez, Joe Kelley or newcomers Blake Treinen or Brusdar Graterol.

Treinen is a free-agent signing who had 38 saves with Oakland in 2018, but only 16 last season before he was removed from the closer’s role. He finished with an earned run average of 4.91 and gave up  9 home runs in 58 and 2/3 innings.

Graterol came over from the Minnesota Twins in exchange for Kenta Maeda in an off-season trade.

Graterol pitched in 10 games for the Twins last season, after going 7-0 at three levels of the Twins farm system most of the year. Graterol throws hard and has averaged more than a strike out an inning during his minor league career.

The Dodgers wouldn’t have parted with Maeda if they didn’t think Graterol was special.

A BOLD ALLIANCE: Eleven of the Southland’s professional sports franchises have joined together in a five-year collaboration aimed at promoting social justice and ending racial inequality.

Joining “The ALLIANCE: Los Angeles” were the Ducks, Angels, Chargers, Clippers, Dodgers, Los Angeles Football Club, Galaxy, Kings, Lakers, Rams and Sparks.

The alliance will partner with the nonprofit Play Equity Fund in the Los Angeles area, supporting its effort to promote social equity by sponsoring sports and “structured play” for youth regardless of race, economic status or gender.

“The ALLIANCE: Los Angeles has been forged specifically to create positive change in underserved communities, with an emphasis on Black communities,” a statement issued by the organization said. “All 11 teams are united in their dedication to this effort and recognize driving change is a long-term commitment. Through sports and social programming, we aim to work in communities to affect structural changes on levels that have a lasting impact.”

Officials said the alliance will work to address issues that can serve as a barrier to at-risk youth competing in organized sports, such as budget cuts to after-school programs, lack of safe transportation to playgrounds, shortages of trained coaches and rising costs of athletic programs.

“The ALLIANCE: Los Angeles is an unprecedented collaboration by sports organizations recognizing the impact they can have by working together, and they should be commended for seeking to make significant changes in communities of color,” said Renata Simril, president of the Play Equity Fund.

“The Los Angeles region is one of the world’s most competitive markets, and sports is one of the world’s most competitive industries. But these organizations are putting their competitive instincts aside to work collaboratively for social justice.”

The alliance and Play Equity Fund will sponsor a Sports for Social Justice Symposium on July 22, in conjunction with National Youth Sports Week.

The webinar will include presentations from representatives of the various sports franchises, along with social justice leaders and sports commentators.

If anything, the pandemic may have done something to unify the local teams to give back to the community more than they have in the past.

Players from the LAFC showed they have developed a social conscience during the break in the season. Prior to their game July 13 that resumed the season in Orlando, Florida, several players donned Black Lives Matter T-shirts over their game jerseys and kneeled during the national anthem.

City News Service contributed to this story.