SPORTS DIGEST: Dodgers bullpen woes continue in loss to Cincinnati

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By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

Blame it on the pitching staff.

The Dodgers lost to the Cincinnati Reds 9-8 June 6, falling out of first place in the process. They now trail the Arizona Diamondbacks by a game in the National League Western Division standings. 

Now there’s a sentence I didn’t expect to be writing in spring training.

The Dodgers scored three runs in the first inning. Starting pitcher Tony Gonsolin gave them all back in the bottom of the inning, walking a player making his Major League debut to load the bases and then hitting the next batter to force in a run.

Gonsolin settled down after that, but the long first inning ran up Gonsolin’s pitch count and that meant the shaky bullpen got pressed into early service.

The Dodgers’ offense added another five runs in the fourth inning on a solo home run by J.D. Martinez and a grand slam by Freddie Freeman, but the bullpen gave that back and more over the last four innings.

Yency Almonte gave up a run after walking the leadoff hitter in the sixth inning and Brusdar Graterol gave up another in the seventh inning to cut the Dodgers’ lead to 8-6. After Evan Phillips had a perfect eighth inning against the heart of the Reds lineup, Caleb Ferguson gave the game away in the ninth inning. 

He walked three of the first five hitters he faced and then hit a batter to tie the game.

Manager Dave Roberts finally went out and replaced Ferguson but Matt McLain hit a fly ball over the drawn-in outfield that landed on the warning track, easily scoring the winning run.

It was the Dodgers’ third loss in a row, the second time they have dropped three straight games this year. 

The Dodgers dropped two of three games against the Yankees over the weekend after winning the opener, 8-6, sparked by a leadoff home run by Mookie Betts in the first inning that led to a six-run rally and Clayton Kershaw’s four-hitter over seven innings. 

But the Dodgers dropped the next two, 6-3 and 4-1, despite getting solid efforts in both games from rookie starting pitchers Michael Grove and Bobby Miller.

Grove made only two mistakes on five innings against the Yankees June 3.

Unfortunately, Jake Bauers hit them both over the right field wall for two-run home runs. 

Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge saved the game when he ran through the bullpen gate to catch a ball off the bat of Martinez in the eighth inning of what was then a 5-3 game. That catch will be shown on highlight reels for the next decade.

As good as Grove was against the Yankees, Miller was better the next day. He gave up only one hit and walked two in six innings, striking out seven. But the Dodgers’ bats were also quiet and the bullpen gave up four runs over the last three innings.

Phillips gave up the go-ahead run in the eighth inning and Ferguson gave up two more in the ninth.

That means the bullpen has surrendered 13 runs in the last four games and 18 in the last five games, not the stat line you want from the bullpen.

Roberts continues to use Phillips against the other team’s best hitters, leaving lesser bullpen arms to get the often-elusive outs in the ninth inning. Lately, that hasn’t been working.

It might help if there was another starting pitcher besides Kershaw capable of going six or more innings.

Julio Urias is due back from his hamstring injury this weekend in Philadelphia. That will help. 

Miller appears to be the real deal and could stick in the starting rotation. In his first three starts, he has given up only two runs and nine hits in 17 innings, while striking out 16 and walking only four.

If Grove can continue to pitch like he did against the Yankees, it might mean the end of the Noah Syndergard experiment with the Dodgers. Signed to a one-year contract for $13 million in the offseason, Syndergard is 1-4 in 11 starts with an earned run average of 6.54.  

That’s far cry from the 14-9 record Syndergard posted in 2016 for the Mets when he had a 2.60 ERA and 218 strikeouts in 184 innings.

The Dodgers will snap out of this lull and overtake the Diamondbacks again, but the bullpen issues are real. 

Roberts may have to start trusting his starters to go longer into games and take some of the pressure of the relief pitchers. No team, not even one that hits like the Dodgers, is going to score eight runs every game.

ODD AND ENDS: The NBA Finals are tied at 1-1 as this is being written. Everyone predicting a Denver sweep after game 1 had to sit back and take a deep breath after the Miami Heat recovered to win game 2.

The series now moves to Miami, where the Heat thrive. I still like Denver in the series. Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray are better than Jimmy Butler and  other Heat player.

But Butler is liable to go off for 40 in a game and the Heat may have come up with a plan to let Jokic score all he wants, which limits his rebounding and passing. We’ll see how it plays out the rest of the series. …

I have never watched a LIV golf tournament. I tune in to the four major tournaments on the professional golf tour and watched most of the last two rounds of last weekend’s tournament in Ohio hosted by Jack Nicklaus.

I’m a casual golf fan at best. I don’t really care about the merger announced June 6 between the PGA Tour, LIV Golf and the DP World Tour. 

You could see this coming after LIV tour member Brooks Koepka won the PGA Championship May 21. The PGA needed Koepka and some of the other LIV defectors.

I don’t much care about the politics in the situation. Yes, the Saudis, who will now help finance the PGA Tour, have done despicable things to women, children and people they disagree with, but the world of sports has been associated with despicable people for years. Marge Schott, Donald Sterling and Dan Snyder only scratch the surface.

The already rich players will get richer and this will stop being newsworthy next week after the U.S. Open is decided at the Los Angeles Country Club. … 

The Los Angeles Sparks play host to the Chicago Sky June 9 at Arena. The Sparks are 3-3 on the young season after blowing a 21-point first hal lead and losing to the Seattle Storm 66-63 June 6.

The Sparks are trying to bounce back from a dreadful 2022 season that saw them go 13-23. They have replaced Derek Fisher, who was coach and general manager last season, with Karen Bryant as general manager and Curt Miller as head coach.

On the court, the Sparks are led by the Ogwumike sisters. Nneka and Chiney average 57 minutes, 33 points and 14 rebounds a game. Guards Lexie Brown and Jordin Canada average 14.5 and 10.4 points, respectively. 

The Sparks are tied for second place in the WNBA West behind the undefeated Las Vegas Aces, who are 7-0. …

It wasn’t a good week for L.A.’s soccer teams last week. Los Angeles Football Club lost to León 1-0 June 4 in the CONCACAF Champions League final series, making it the runner-up for best soccer club in the Western Hemisphere.

As far as Major League Soccer goes, LAFC is in third place in the Western Conference with 23 points, nine behind the conference-leading St. Louis City SC. The team has had to reschedule some of its MLS games because of the CONCACAF tournament, something that could back and hurt them later in the season.

The Galaxy defeated Real Salt Lake, 3-2 May 31 in their first game after firing team President Chris Klein.

They travel to St. Louis June 11 to play the conference-leading St. Louis City SC. They remain in last place in the Western Conference standings with 3 wins, 9 losses and 3 ties.

Angel City Football Club is almost as bad as the Galaxy. They are in 11th place in the 12-team league with 2 wins, 5 losses and 3 ties, but only trail league-leading Portland by 10 points. 

Angel City lost to the Chicago Red Stars, 2-1 June 5, and faces the Washington Spirit in a road game June 10. … 

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