SPORTS DIGEST: Dodgers enter easy stretch of schedule with 29-15 record

By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

The Los Angeles Dodgers hit a slight bump in the road last weekend against the San Diego Padres, losing two out of three games when their bats went silent.

The situation solved itself when the San Francisco Giants came to town. The Dodgers won the first two games of that series and find themselves 7½ games in front of the Padres almost a third of their way into the schedule and with possibly the easiest stretch of the season ahead of them.

Between now and June 7 when they open a three-game series at Yankees Stadium, the Dodgers will play seven games against the 18-24 Cincinnati Reds, three against the 20-23 Arizona Diamondbacks, three against the 19-22 New York Mets, three against the 14-28 Colorado Rockies and three against the 19-24 Pittsburgh Pirates. 

Counting the three games with the Giants this week, that’s 22 games in a row against teams with losing records.

The Dodgers hitters get most of the credit because Mookie Betts, Shohei Ohtani and Freddie Freeman are bonafide stars and former most valuable players, but you can’t overlook the Dodgers pitching staff and the way team management always finds a new arm when they need one.

Three of the five pitchers in the current starting rotation — Tyler Glasnow, James Paxton and Yoshinobu Yamamoto — were acquired via trade or free agent signings in the last offseason, but the other two current starters — Walker Buehler and Gavin Stone — were drafted and developed by the Dodgers.

Just look at the young arms the Dodgers have developed in recent years since Buehler was drafted in the first round out of Vanderbilt in 2015. The injured list alone has at least four young starters who have displayed major league ability: Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin, Bobby Miller and Emmet Sheehan. 

May was a third round pick in 2016 out of a Texas high school. He reached the majors in August 2019 and has a 12-9 record in 34 career starts with a 3.10 earned run average.

Gonsolin was drafted in the ninth round in 2016 out of St. Mary’s College, but beat May to the majors, arriving in June 2019. He is 34-11 in 71 starts with a 3.19 ERA.

Miller and Sheehan both burst on the scene last season. Miller was a first-round draft pick out of the University of Louisville in 2020. He was 11-4 in 22 starts after being called up in May last season and was 1-1 this season when placed on the injured list with a sore shoulder in April. He is expected to be back soon.

Sheehan was a sixth round pick out of Boston College in 2021 and joined the team last June, throwing six innings of no-hit baseball in his debut against the Giants. He finished the season with a 4-1 record and 64 strikeouts in 60 innings.

And the supply of young pitchers doesn’t end there.

Stone, a fifth round pick in the 2020, has stepped into Miller’s place in the rotation and is 4-1 with a 3.27 ERA in eight starts.

Waiting in the wings in Oklahoma City is Landon Knack, who already has made three starts for the Dodgers this season, posting a 1-1 record with a 2.81 ERA. 

How the injured players bounce back from their injuries remains to be seen, but the Dodgers have been able to recover from losing Trevor Bauer and Julio Urias over the last couple of years without much impact on their pitching staff.

If Buehler returns to his 2021 form when he was 16-4 with a 2.47 ERA, the Dodgers will have a tough decision to make next November when he enters free agency. How much to you spend on a pitcher who, when healthy, is capable of being the ace of a staff but has two Tommy John surgeries in his past?

The Dodgers have always been built around pitching. In the 1960s, it was Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. In the 70s, it was Don Sutton, Andy Messersmith and Burt Hooton. In the 80s, it was Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser.

Only in the 70s did they have a batting order that could match up with the current lineup and the Dodgers went to three World Series in the 70s and would have gone to more if they weren’t in the same division as the Cincinnati Reds and their Big Red Machine.

The Dodgers bullpen mostly consists of players the Dodgers have acquired from other teams, but the Dodgers pitching staff integrates newcomers as well as any organization.

After a slow start this year, the Dodgers have the fourth best bullpen ERA in the majors at 3.08 and the second best ratio of walks and hits allowed per inning at 1.04.

Add that to the starting rotation, led by Glasnow’s 6-1 record, and an offense that leads the National League in runs scored, home runs and batting average, and you have the makings of a championship caliber team.

At 29-15, the Dodgers have the third best record in the major leagues and a soft schedule over the next three weeks. 

It will be interesting to see what kind of damage they can do in the next 19 games.

NEW SEASON: The Sparks opened the 2024 WNBA season at home against the Atlanta Dream May 15. They travel to Las Vegas to face the Aces May 18 and return home against the Washington Mystics May 21 at the Pyramid on Long Beach State.

They host the Indiana Fever and rookie Caitlin Clark May 24 in a game that was moved from the Pyramid to Crypto.com Arena because of interest in seeing Clark and because the Lakers and Clippers were no longer using Crypto.com after being ousted from the playoffs.

The Sparks have overhauled their roster from last year’s team that went 17-23, fourth in the six-team Western Conference. Their top two scorers from last season — Nneka Ogwumike and Jordin Canada — are gone, but guards Lexie Brown,  Layshia Clarendon and Zia Cooke are back along with forward Dearica Hamby, center Azura Stevens and wing Rae Burrell.

Newcomers include Cameron Brink, a 6-4 forward from Stanford who was the second overall pick (after Clark) in the WNBA Draft, and Rickea Jackson, a 6-2 forward from Tennessee, who was the fourth pick.

Former all star Kia Nurse and Australian Stephanie Talbot are among the veteran newcomers who hope to lead the Sparks back into contention in a league and sport hoping to capitalize on the interest Clark and other recent college players have created.

ODDS AND ENDS: Tiger Woods tees it up again in the PGA Championship May 15-18 at the Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky. Woods is hoping to bounce back from a dreadful performance at the Masters last month.

He will be paired with Adam Scott and Keegan Bradley for the first two rounds. Woods struggled to make the cut at the Masters and then shot 82 and 77 in the final two rounds to end up at 16 over par. 

His 304 shots over 72 holes are the most in his career.

In a field that features golf’s No. 1 player Scottie Scheffler, a hot Rory McIlroy and the top players from the Liv Tour, Woods is going to have to dig down deep to find any of that old magic that still remains. … 

The second round of the NBA playoffs has been competitive, with only the Boston Celtics holding a commanding edge. The Celtics lead the Cleveland Cavaliers 3-1, with a possible closeout game five May 15.

In the other Eastern Conference semifinals the Knicks lead the Indiana Pacers 3-2 in a series that has seen the home team win every game. Game six is May 17 in Indiana.

In the Western Conference, the Denver Nuggets have bounced back from losing the first two games of the series at home to lead the Minnesota Timberwolves 3-2 with game six May 16.

Oklahoma City and Dallas are knotted up at 2-2 in the other Western Conference series. 

Injuries are starting to take their toll in the playoffs. The Cavaliers have lost starting point guard Donovan Mitchell to a calf injury and the Timberwolves have lost point guard Mike Conley.

The Knicks were banged up coming into the playoffs and coach Tom Thibodeau has tightened his rotation to seven players. So far, it is working. … 

The NFL announced its 2024 schedule May 15, hours after press time for this column. We know who the Chargers and Rams will face this season, we just don’t know when.

The Rams will face division foes the San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks at home and away. That’s six games. 

The other home games are against the Buffalo Bills, Green Bay Packers, Las Vegas Raiders, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles, a solid and difficult schedule. On the road, the Rams will face the Chicago Bears, the Detroit Lions, the New England Patriots, the New Orleans Saints and the New York Jets, meaning the road schedule will be easier than the home schedule.

The Chargers ace division foes the Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos at home and away. The home schedule also includes the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans.

The road schedule includes the Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New England Patriots and Arizona Cardinals.  

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