By Don Wanlass
The Washington Nationals came to town July 25 with the worst record in baseball at 32-65. The Dodgers, at 64-30, had the best record in the game.
The Nationals then won the first two games of the series.
Fire Dave Roberts, said the fans who always see the Dodgers glass as half empty. Bench Max Muncy. Relax, folks. It’s just baseball.
The Dodgers entered the Washington series winning 19 of their last 23 games. They just swept a four-game series against the San Francisco Giants.
And while the Giants are struggling with injuries and a weak bullpen, they are still the Giants. The Dodgers got up for the series with the Giants. A letdown against the Nationals was to be expected.
The next big date on the Dodgers calendar is Aug. 2, the trade deadline. Team President Andrew Friedman is known for pulling off big deals this time of year.
Last year, he brought in pitcher Max Scherzer and shortstop Trea Turner for the stretch run. In 2018, he brought in Manny Machado. In 2017, it was Yu Darvish.
Friedman stood pat in 2020 and the Dodgers won the World Series. He made only minor deals in 2019 and the Dodgers lost to Washington in the playoffs.
This year, I wouldn’t expect Friedman to do anything major because the Dodgers are one of the best teams in baseball and are, hopefully, getting several injured players back for the stretch run and postseason who are as good, if not better, than anything out on the market.
Yes, Juan Soto is a good young talent who would give the Dodgers another left-handed bat and one of the best hitting outfields in all of baseball.
But he would cost too many top prospects and the Dodgers would be better off keeping those prospects this time around.
Despite the fact that Muncy and Cody Bellinger aren’t hitting their weight and haven’t all season, the Dodgers still have one of the best offenses around. Only the Yankees have scored more runs this season. The Dodgers have given up the fewest runs in all of baseball.
They will get utility man Chris Taylor back within the next week. Edwin Rios, a young player with lots of potential but prone to injury, might be back in September from a torn hamstring.
That should improve the Dodgers offensive depth, which is all this team needs at the moment, barring any unforeseen injuries.
The pitching staff saw Andrew Heaney return from the disabled list July 27 (although he could go back on it any time, depending on his sore shoulder). Dustin May, a more promising young starter than Tony Gonsolin before Tommy John surgery last season, is a few rehab starts away.
Blake Treinen and Tommy Kahnle are close to returning in the bullpen, which is the weakest link on a solid roster. Walker Buehler is on pace to be back in the rotation by September.
Friedman doesn’t need to make a deal this season and should only do so if he is acquiring a difference maker.
Soto, despite his skills, is hitting only .245 this season. He is nowhere near the defensive outfielder Mookie Betts and Bellinger are.
He also might upset team chemistry, a key factor in championship teams. With Betts, Trea Turner and Freddie Freeman at the top of the order and Will Smith taking over the cleanup spot, the Dodgers are set at the top of the lineup. They don’t need Soto’s bat.
The starting rotation — especially if Buehler and May come back healthy — also doesn’t need help. I wouldn’t mind seeing Friedman add a consistent lefthander to the bullpen, but if Treinen returns healthy, the Dodgers should be set there, too, especially with the development of Evan Phillips this year.
The Dodgers got an up close look at two of their former prospects against the Nationals. Catcher Keibert Ruiz had a run-scoring single July 26. Pitcher Josiah Gray struck out six in five innings.
They were the prized pieces the Dodgers surrendered last season for Scherzer and Trea Turner.
The Dodgers have more talented players in the pipeline: infielders power-hitting infielders Miguel Vargas and Michael Bush, another catching prospect in Diego Cartaya and pitchers Bobby Miller and Ryan Pepiot. They don’t need to trade them this year.
They lead the Padres by 10½ games and are a 99.9% lock to make the playoffs, according to Baseball Reference. They also have a 26.4% chance to win the World Series.
I’ll take my chances with this team.
TRAINING CAMP: They both play their home games at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood but the Rams and Chargers hold their training camps 78 miles from each other. The Chargers train in Costa Mesa while the Rams are in Thousand Oaks.
Both teams head into the 2022 season with optimism. The Rams are of course the defending Super Bowl champions and handed out Super Bowl rings July 24.
The Chargers ended the 2021 season on a sour note, losing to the Las Vegas Raiders in a game that cost them a playoff berth.
The Chargers are a hungry team entering the 2022 season and they play in arguably the toughest division in the National Football League.
The Kansas Chiefs and Raiders both went to the playoffs last year and the Denver Broncos traded for quarterback Russell Wilson in the offseason.
The Chargers have responded by revamping their defense, bringing in edge rusher Khalil Mack, Pro Bowl cornerback J.C. Jackson, former Ram defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day and several other free agent signees to team with end Joey Boza and safety Derwin James.
The Chargers will need a stout defense against Wilson, the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and the Raiders’ Derek Carr.
Offensively, the Chargers need to find someone to give running back Austin Ekeler a break in the backfield and hope their revamped offensive line can jell and protect quarterback Justin Herbert.
The receiving corps, led by Keenan Allen and Michael Williams, is one of the team’s strengths.
After winning the Super Bowl last February, the Rams said goodbye to left offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, who retired; and punter Johnny Hekker, who they cut.
Hekker had been with the Rams since 2012 after signing as an undrafted free agent. He was selected the first team All-Pro punter four times in his 10 seasons with the team and also played in four Pro Bowls.
A former quarterback at Oregon State, Hekker was always a threat to throw from punt formation, a tool the Rams never hesitated to use.
He has signed with the Carolina Panthers.
With Russell Wilson now in Denver and Jimmy Garappolo reportedly on his way out of San Francisco, the Rams might have an easier path in the NFL Western Division this year, but they also are the defending Super Bowl champions, meaning there will be a bullseye on their back each week.
The Patriots were the last team to win back-to-back Super Bowls in 2003, giving the Rams something to shoot at this year.
If their new Super Bowl rings don’t weigh them down too much, the Rams have a chance to make it back to the big game this season.
SPARKS SPUTTER: The Los Angeles Sparks were dealt a blow to their playoff chances this week when center Liz Cambage left the team.
Cambage, who was signed to a free agent contract in the last offseason by former coach and general manager Derek Fisher, and the Sparks announced a “contract divorce” July 26. Cambage was averaging 13 points and 6.4 rebounds a game for the Sparks, who are fighting for a playoff berth with a 12-15 record with three weeks to play in the regular season.
The Sparks are currently tied for sixth in the race for the eight-team playoffs, but there are two teams half a game behind them in the standings, including the Phoenix Mercury who they face July 28.
Cambage’s spot in the lineup will probably be filled by Chiney Ogwumike, the younger sister of star forward Nneka Ogwumike. Chiney Ogwukie is averaging 7.5 points and 5.7 rebounds in 18-plus minutes per game.
Her sister leads the team in scoring (18.7), rebounds (6.8) and minutes (31.8).
The Sparks signed rookie Kianna Smith, a guard out of Louisville, to a seven-day contract to replace Cambage on the roster. Smith was a second-round draft pick by the Sparks in the last draft and played two games for the team earlier this month.
The Sparks are facing a touch schedule coming up with six games in nine nights, five of them on the road.
It’s a crucial stretch of the season to lose a key starter. Interim coach Fred Williams has his work cut out for him as he tries to steer the Sparks to the playoffs.
KICKING IT: With 13 games remaining in their Major League Soccer schedule, the Los Angeles Galaxy clings to a playoff spot. Seven teams from each conference qualify for the MLS playoffs each year and the Galaxy are currently tied for seventh in the MLS Western Conference with the Portland Timbers. Each has 30 points,
The Seattle Sounders are only a point back.
The Galaxy are coming off a 2-0 win over Atlanta United July 24, which snapped a three-game losing streak. Kevin Cabral got the Galaxy off to good start with a goal seven minutes into the game. The Galaxy didn’t score again until stoppage time at the end of the game when Dejan Joveljic iced the game.
The Galaxy have a chance to improve their playoff position when they face FC Dallas at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson at 6 p.m.
FC Dallas is two points ahead of the Galaxy. A win could put the Galaxy into fifth place in the conference, depending what Nashville and Portland do.
LAFC, the other local team, team continues to lead the Western Conference with 45 points, four ahead of second-place Austin. LAFC host the Seattle Sounders at 8 p.m. July 29 at Banc of California Stadium.
They defeated Sporting Kansas City July 23, 2-0, in a game that saw newcomer Gareth Bale score his first goal for the team.