SPORTS DIGEST: Dodgers are winning games at a championship pace

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By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

The Los Angeles Dodgers are a juggernaut.

Their record is six games better than the second best teams in the major leagues — the New York Yankees and the Houston Astros.

After man-handling the San Diego Padres in a three-game series Aug. 5-7 and outscoring the Padres 20-4, they lead the National League Western Division by 16 games. The Padres might have won the trade deadline by acquiring Juan Soto, Josh Bell and closer Josh Hader, but at this point they are playing for a wild-card berth.

The Dodgers are a win away from having a winning percentage of .700 for the season. That’s winning seven out of every 10 games for more than four months.

Since June 29 they are 31-5, a winning percentage of .861.

What is scarier for the rest of baseball is that the Dodgers can get better between now and the end of the season. They could add Walker Buehler and Dustin May to their starting rotation, Blake Treinen to the bullpen and Edwin Rios to the bench.

The Dodgers were relatively quiet at the trading deadline, adding outfielder Joey Gallo in a trade with the Yankees and unloading starting pitcher Mitch White to the Toronto Blue Jays and relief pitcher Garrett Cleavinger to the Tampa Bay Rays. The latter two moves were done primarily to open spots on the 40-man roster to make room for May and Buehler when they both come off the 60-day injured list.

In their current nine-game winning streak, the Dodgers have scored 62 runs while giving up only 20.

Their second and third hitters in the lineup — Trea Turner and Freddie Freeman — have more hits than anyone else in baseball. Max Muncy, who has been mired in a season-long slump, is showing signs of regaining his hitting stroke. So is Cody Bellinger.

If that happens, the rest of Major League Baseball better look out and the city of Los Angeles better start planning for a parade.

But this is baseball and anything can happen — and probably will.

The 2017 Dodgers had a stretch where they won 42 out of 50 games. Three weeks later they started another stretch where they lost 16 of 17 games.

They made it to the World Series that season, losing to the Astros in seven games. Anything short of a World Series this year will be a disappointment, but right now I don’t see that happening.

The Dodgers play to the level of their competition. They haven’t played well against the Pittsburgh Pirates (1-5), the Philadelphia Phillies (3-4), the Cleveland Guardians (1-2) and the Washington Nationals (3-3). Against everyone else they are 68-19. That’s a .781 winning percentage.

Against their division foes — San Diego, San Francisco, Arizona and Colorado — they are 35-12, almost a .750 winning percentage. Against the American League they are 12-4.

Two pitchers that nobody expected big years from — Tony Gonsolin and Tyler Anderson — are a combined 26-2.

Julio Urias has taken over as the staff ace, winning his last nine decisions after starting the season 3-6. Evan Phillips has blossomed in the bullpen as the high-leverage pitcher that gets the ball to closer Craig Kimbrel late in the games.

Kimbrel might be the weakest link in the chain for the Dodgers. He has 20 saves in 23 opportunities this season, although he allows 1-1/2 batters to reach base per inning, which drives manager Dave Roberts and most Dodgers fans nuts.

The truth of the matter is the Dodgers haven’t needed a great closer because they are ahead of most games by more than three runs entering the ninth inning.

If that’s their biggest weakness, having to rely on the active pitcher who has more career saves than anyone else still playing, the Dodgers are in excellent shape.

The division series starts Oct. 11, two months from now. Anything can happen between now and then.

But right now you have to like the Dodgers chances for bringing home another World Series championship.

END OF AN ERA: Tennis great Serena Williams is about to make a career move.

Don’t call it retirement. She doesn’t like that word.

In an article in the September issue of Vogue magazine, she suggested that the U.S. Open, which begins Aug. 29, could be her last appearance on the tennis court.

Moving on she called it.

“I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me,” she wrote in Vogue.

If Serena is calling it quits soon, it will be the end of a remarkable career. Her and sister Venus came off the streets of Compton to take the tennis world by storm.

They combined for 30 major championships in singles competition while creating their own brands that enabled them to make more money off the tennis court as they did on it.

Unless she shocks the world by winning the U.S. Open next month, Serena Williams will leave tennis with 23 major titles (wins at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, the Australian Open and the French Open). That is one short of the record held by Margaret Court.

Serena and Venus also teamed up to win 14 doubles titles at major tournaments and also won three Olympic Gold medals in doubles. That makes them both among the best players tennis has ever produced.

Serena’s focus now is on her family, she said.

“If I have to choose between building by tennis resume and building my family, I choose the latter,” she wrote in Vogue.

She deserves to make that choice. She has been a great champion. And now we all have a sentimental favorite to cheer for when the U.S. Open starts later this month.

BUILDING BLOCK: Things have been kind of quiet in Lakers Land lately, but the latest news leaking out offers signs that the team might be headed in the right direction finally.

At a meeting held between team President Rob Pelinka, new head coach Darren Ham, LeBron James and his agent, Rich Paul (who also represents Anthony Davis), it was apparently determined that the Lakers would run their offense through Davis this year.

They also talked about being accountable, selfless and willing to accept new roles for the betterment of the team.

I wonder if Russell Westbrook’s ears were burning during that meeting.

Running the offense through Davis makes sense. He’s the best — and most versatile — scorer on the team. He can score inside, hit the mid-range jumper and the occasional three-pointer.

Davis is rumored to be in good physical shape, unlike previous off-seasons, and plans to report to camp in optimum shape in hopes of avoiding serious injuries during the season.

That’s the best news the Lakers have heard since last season ended.

The Lakers are still trying to trade Westbrook, but they also seem reconciled to having him come off the bench this season if he isn’t able to adjust his game to play away from the ball and exert himself on defense, something Ham is going to stress to everyone once training camp begins.

I’m still not sure the Lakers will be a playoff contender this season, but getting the front office, the head coach and the star player (James) on the same page a month before training camp sounds like more progress than the Lakers have made since they traded for Westbrook a year ago.

TRAVEL WOES: The Los Angeles Sparks drifted farther out of the WNBA playoff picture this week, getting blown out by the Connecticut Suns, 97-71 Aug. 9, a day or two after many of them spent the night sleeping in a Washington, D.C. airport after their commercial flight home was canceled.

It was another incident in what has been a trying season for the Sparks, who are the 11th best team in a 12-team league, according to the standings.

WNBA rules do not allow teams to charter flights during the regular season, the concern being that charter flights become a competitive advantage that not every team can afford.

The two teams that make it to the league finals this year will be allowed to charter flights. The WNBA players association has been working on improving travel conditions for a while.

The latest collective bargaining agreement requires players to have solo hotel rooms and premium economy seats with extended leg room, but the players want teams to be forced to pony up for charter flights like NBA teams do and most other professional sports teams

Even though the Sparks have lost seven of their last eight games, they are only one game out of eighth place in the league, which is how many teams make the playoffs.

The Sparks have a rematch against Connecticut Aug. 11 and then close out the season against Dallas at 4 p.m. Aug. 14. The Sparks need to win both of those games (Dallas and Connecticut already have clinched playoff berths) and hope for some help.

At least both of their final games are at home, so there will be no more sleeping in airports for a while.

ON THE PITCH: Both the Galaxy and LAFC play at home Aug. 13, the Galaxy hosting Vancouver and LAFC hosting Charlotte. Otherwise, the two teams are headed in opposite directions.

LAFC has three more wins (16) than any other team in Major League Soccer. The Galaxy are 9-11-3 and have lost five of six and six of the last eight games.

LAFC continues to improve the roster. In late June, the team signed forward Gareth Bale, who had a successful nine-year career with Real Madrid in Spain. On Aug. 5 they added still more scoring punch, signing forward Denis Bouanga, who spent the last three seasons playing in the French first division.

The Galaxy have added Riqui Puig, a 22-year-old midfielder from Spain, who is younger than Bale and Bouanga with a bright future, but his soccer resume doesn’t match theirs.

The Galaxy have two months to get back on track, but they need to start moving in the right direction soon. They are only three points out of a playoff spot currently, but they will need to climb past Portland and Seattle while holding off Colorado and Vancouver to make the playoffs.

The MLS Western Conference has a logjam of seven teams within five points of each other for the final three playoff spots.

Meanwhile, LAFC is six points (two games) ahead of everyone in the race for the top seed in the West. And they have brought in some key reinforcements.

 

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