SPORTS DIGEST: Dodgers begin to pull away from division foes

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By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

When play resumed after the All Star break on July 14, the Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks were tied for first place in the National League West with 51-38 records.

Less than four weeks later, the Dodgers are 10 games ahead of the Diamondbacks, five ahead of the Gants and well on the way to their 10th division title in 11 years.

Since the break, the Dodgers are 15-8. After a dreadful stretch, the bullpen has been sound — with the exception of the eighth inning against San Diego Aug. 5 — the starting rotation is starting to get some important pieces back and trade-deadline acquisitions are performing well.

According to Baseball Reference, the Dodgers now have a 99.8% chance of making the playoffs and a 12.7% chance to win the World Series. Only the Atlanta Braves (19.8%) and the Texas Rangers (16.9%) have better chances of winning the World Series at this time.

That doesn’t mean anything. This time last season, the Dodgers were overwhelming favorites to win the World Series. They didn’t get out of the division series.

But every year is different in baseball.

This year’s Dodgers team is powered by the top of the batting order, which has overcome an inconsistent pitching staff by simply outscoring the opposition when it has to.

Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, Max Muncy and J.D. Martinez all have more than 20 home runs and 70 runs batted so far. Although they only have the eighth best batting average in the National League, the Dodgers lead the league in runs scored and walks, and are second in home runs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS, which combines on-base and slugging percentage.

Off-season acquisitions Martinez, David Peralta, Jason Heyward and Miguel Rojas have fit well into the clubhouse and the lineup, allowing manager Dave Roberts to play the percentages he loves to play matching up against the opposing pitcher.

Players acquired at the trade deadline have already made an impact. Through Aug. 7, Kike Hernandez was hitting .324 as a Dodger with a home run and 7 RBI while playing all over the Diamond. 

Amed Rosario, who played mostly shortstop at Cleveland, has played mostly at second base for the Dodgers. He is hitting .286 with 2 homers and 9 RBI and providing solid defense.

Lance Lynn has won both his starts, allowing only nine hits and striking out 13 in 13 innings. He has given up four home runs, but they all came with the bases empty.

Ryan Yarbrough and Joe Kelly also have pitched well out of the bullpen.

And there is reason to be optimistic about the pitching staff. Clayton Kershaw is expected to return to the starting rotation Aug. 10 against the Colorado Rockies.

Walker Buehler, who underwent Tommy John surgery in June 2022 and was expected to miss all of this season, is gearing up a return to the active roster in early September.

The Dodgers could use Buehler in the starting rotation, but he might be even more valuable for the last month of the season at the back end of the bullpen. It will depend on how rookie Bobby Miller continues to progress as a starter.

Miller is 6-2 as a starter, but his earned run average is at 4.26. He is the most promising of the young starters the Dodgers have promoted this year, but he is still developing and needs to learn how to rely on his talent and not try to be too fine.

Julio Urias is finally starting to show signs that he can be the staff ace after winning his ninth game of the season Aug. 8 against the Diamondbacks. He shut out Arizona for six innings on four hits in a 5-4 victory.

Back in April, it seemed that this season would be a time for developing young players, but as the stretch run begins the Dodgers only have two rookies left on their 26-man roster: Miller and outfielder James Outman.

After hitting only .195 in 81 games, Miguel Vargas was sent back to Oklahoma City at the All-Star break and he probably won’t be back this season. Young pitchers Emmett Sheehan and Gavin Stone also are back at Oklahoma City and Michael Grove is on the injured list.

After struggling in May and June, Outman has regained the form that made him the best rookie in the league during April. He has his average back up to .258 with 13 homers and 49 RBI while playing great centerfield. 

The Dodgers will continue to hit and score runs. They don’t need the pitching staff to be dominant, just keep the game close and avoid big innings. A stronger starting rotation with Kershaw back will lead to fresher arms in the bullpen, which will improve the Dodgers chances of advancing farther in the playoffs than they did last year.

FOOTBALL IS BACK: It’s only a preseason game, but the two teams that share SoFi Stadium in Inglewood will play each other Aug. 12 in the first game of the season. The Chargers are optimistic that they are on the verge of being a very good football team.

The Rams are hoping to forget last year’s 5-12 record, the worst record ever posted by a team the season after it won a Super Bowl.

Rams coach Sean McVay doesn’t like playing many of his starters in the preseason, so it will be hard to get a read on the Rams this week. Expect to see a lot of Stetson Bennett at quarterback instead of Matthew Stafford.

Bennett led Georgia to back-to-back national titles in college. A fourth-round draft pick, he is expected to learn from watching Stafford for the next season or two before getting a chance at the starting job, so he needs to back a good impression during the preseason.

The Chargers have more weapons than the Rams offensively, but coach Brandon Staley probably won’t showcase them that much in the opening week. Now in his third season, Staley could be on the hot seat this year with the Chargers.

In his rookie year, the Chargers lost in the last minute of the last game of the season to the Raiders, which cost them a playoff berth.

The Chargers made the playoffs last year, but blew a 27-0 second quarter lead to the Jacksonville Jaguars, losing on a last-second field goal, 31-30, in the Wild Card round.

With quarterback Justin Herbert now in his fourth season, offensive weapons like Austin Ekeler, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, and defensive standouts like Joey Boza and Derwin James, the Chargers need to make another step up this season.

That might be tough in a division that includes the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and a Denver Broncos team that has Sean Payton running the show this season.

The Rams don’t have the high expectations the Chargers do, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be competitive in the NFC West. They were plagued by injuries last season and by simply staying healthy they can probably get back into the playoff picture this year.

Salary cap issues have cost them some key defensive players recently, but Aaron Donald is back to anchor the defensive line and he is still one of the most dominating defensive players in the game. 

If Stafford and Cooper Kupp can bounce back from last season’s injuries and the line can protect Stafford, the Rams should be able to score points. 

The real season starts in a month.

LADY AMATEURS: The U.S. Golf Association is conducting its women’s amateur championship this week at Bel Air Country Club.

After two rounds, Aug. 7 and 8, the field was narrowed down to 64, with match play beginning Aug. 9 and continuing through Aug. 13, when a champion will be crowned. 

The best golfer on the course through the opening two rounds was Brianna Chacon, a graduate of La Serna High School in Whittier. 

Chacon set the U.S. Women’s Amateur 36-hole scoring record with a two-round total of 9-under 131, breaking the previous record of 133 first set by Mariel Galdiano in 2016 and matched by Lucy Li and Selin Hyun in 2018.

She shot a four-under-par 66 to open the tournament Aug. 7 and followed that with a 65.  

Wow, I did not know that,” Chacon said after being informed she set a record. “It’s an honor and I’m just so thankful to be here this week with all my family and friends. I’m lucky that it’s so close to my hometown, so I’m just really excited.”

Chacon played college golf at the University of Oregon.

Stroke-play medalists have had minimal success in the match-play portion of the championship in recent years. The No. 64 seed has knocked off the No. 1 seed six times in the last nine years, and only two medalists have advanced to the quarterfinals since 2010.

Caroline Canales, a UCLA junior and former Calabasas High standout, shot a par-70 Aug. 8 to complete stroke play in a three-way tie for fifth at 4-under 136 with Hailey Borja, a fifth-year student at Michigan and former standout at Trabuco Hills High School in Mission Viejo, and Auburn graduate student Megan Schofill.

All four USC golfers in the original field of 156 advanced to match play, led by graduate student Malia Nam, who finished in a three-way tie for tie for eighth at 3-under 137 with Nikki Oh, a 15-year-old from Torrance, and Stanford senior Rachel Heck.

USC junior Amari Avery, who is from Riverside, completed stroke play in a seven-way tie for 18th at par-140. Senior Brianna Navarrosa was among six golfers tied for 39th at 2-over 142. Freshman Bailey Shoemaker was among 11 golfers tied for 45th at 3-over 143.

The other Los Angeles-area golfers to advance to match play are Harvard-Westlake School senior Ellie Koo, Stanford sophomore Kelly Xu, a Claremont High School alum, Camille Boyd, a Washington senior from Yorba Linda, Princeton sophomore Catherine Rao, an Oaks Christian alum, and Santa Margarita
Catholic High School senior Leigh Chien, who has made a non-binding verbal commitment to attend Stanford.

City News Service contributed to this story.

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