By Don Wanlass
The Dodgers won 111 games this season — the best season in franchise history — but it won’t mean much to their fans if they don’t end the season with 122 total wins, the number it will take to win the World Series.
The Dodgers split their first two games of the National League Divisional Series with the San Diego Padres.
The Dodgers defeated the Padres in the first game Oct. 11, 5-3 in typical Dodgers fashion. Their offense jumped on the starting pitcher for five runs in the first three innings, took the rest of the night off and let their pitching staff do the rest.
They then lost the second game by an identical 5-3 score.
The Padres’ bullpen was outstanding in both games.
The Dodgers bullpen shut down the Padres for four innings in game one, but gave up two runs in the final four innings in game two Oct. 12.
One of those runs was unearned because of an error by shortstop Trea Turner. The other came on a home run by Jake Cronenworth in the eighth inning off reliever Blake Treinen, who did not appear to be sharp as he tries to come back from a season-long should injury.
The series now moves to San Diego for games three and four Oct. 14 and 15. Game five will be Oct. 16 at Dodger Stadium, if necessary.
The Dodgers made some interesting roster moves prior to the series. Former closer Craig Kimbrel was left off the roster in favor of Yency Almonte and Dustin May.
“It’s been an inconsistent year for him,” manager Dave Roberts told the media. “We just have other guys who match up better.”
Roberts said there is a chance Kimbrel could be added to the roster for the National League Championship Series or even the World Series, but I don’t see that happening unless one of the 13 pitchers on the current playoff roster gets hurt or shelled.
The Dodgers also left utility man Hanser Alberto off the playoff roster in place of rookie Miguel Alvarez. Apparently Roberts doesn’t think there will be many blowouts in this series.
Alberto pitched in 10 games this season, all when the Dodgers were wining or losing by a large margin in the eighth or ninth inning. He contributed more as a mop-up reliever and as a cheerleader on the bench than he did at the plate where he hit only .244 with 2 home runs and 15 runs batted in.
Vargas hit only .170 in an extremely limited role but he can play the outfield as well as the infield. Someone else will have to lead the cheers from the bench.
It was interesting that Trayce Thompson started in left field over Chris Taylor and Joey Gallo in the first two games. The Padres used right-hander Mike Cleavinger as their starter, which should have meant the left-handed hitting Gallo was in the lineup.
And Taylor spent more time in left field than anybody else this year and has five years of post-season experience; Thompson played in his first playoff game Oct. 10.
Still, Thompson has been a steady performer who has had some big moments since rejoining the Dodgers in June and Taylor has been bothered by stiffness in his neck and has had a poor second half of the season.
The Dodgers defeated the Padres 14 out of 19 times during the regular season, but that won’t mean a thing if they don’t win two of the next three.
FOR REAL: Even after they beat Washington, 42-32 Oct. 3, I wasn’t sure the Bruins were for real, a thought that was reinforced when Washington lost to Arizona State the next week.
The UCLA-Utah game at the Rose Bowl Oct. 10 removed all doubts. The Bruins led the entire game, answering back every time Utah seemed to be closing in.
Utah closed a 14-3 gap to 14-10 at halftime. The Bruins made it 21-10 on the first drive of the second half. When Utah answered that score with one of their own, UCLA responded with an eight-play 75-yard drive that ended with a 10-yard pass from Dorian Thompson-Robinson to Jake Bobo, giving the Bruins a 28-18 lead.
Utah answered with another scoring drive and the Bruins put the game away.
First, Robinson-Thompson hit Logan Loya with a short pass that Loya turned into a 70-yard touchdown.
Four plays later, Utah quarterback Cameron Rising fumbled and Jaylin Davies recovered for UCLA and ran all the way down to the 1-yard line. Zach Charbonnet scored on the next play and UCLA led 42-25.
UCLA was trying to run out the clock in the last minute when Robinson-Thompson was intercepted by Clark Phillips, who returned it 80 yards for a meaningless touchdown.
The Bruins had passed their biggest test of the season and are now 6-0, 3-0 in Pac 12 play and ranked 12th in the Associated Press poll.
In his fifth year at quarterback, Robinson-Thompson is trying to show that Caleb Williams across town is not the only elite college quarterback in Los Angeles.
He completed 18 of 23 passes for 299 yards and four touchdowns. Utah was intent on not letting the senior quarterback beat them with his legs, but that left Charbonnet with big holes and he gained 198 yards on 22 carries, a 9.0 yard-per-carry average, and a touchdown.
Utah’s offense challenged the Bruins’ defense, rolling up 479 yards and 31 first downs while running 77 plays to the Bruins 61. But the Bruins had more big plays and were able stop the Utes when they needed to.
The Bruins now get a week off before facing another big-time opponent, Oregon Oct. 22 in a game that will be nationally televised.
ANOTHER BIG GAME: Utah’s schedule doesn’t get any easier this week. The USC Trojans travel to Salt Lake City Oct. 15 for a 5 p.m. game that will be televised nationally by Fox.
Utah needs a win to stay in the Pac 12 race. USC needs a win to stay in contention for a berth in the College Football Playoffs.
Apparently, the Trojans’ 30-14 win over Washington State Oct. 8 wasn’t impressive to voters in the Associated Press poll who dropped the Trojans from sixth to seventh.
The best thing about the win, which gave the Trojans a 6-0 record, was that the Trojans defense held Washington State scoreless in the second half.
After taking a 14-10 lead slightly more than three minutes into the second half, the Cougars went scoreless the final 41 minutes of the game.
The Trojans regained the lead before halftime on a 4-yard run by Travis Dye, added a third-quarter touchdown on a pass from Caleb Williams to Mario Williams and two fourth-quarter field goals by Denis Lynch for the win.
Caleb Williams had a subpar game for him. He completed only 15 of 29 passes for 188 yards, but still threw two touchdown passes and avoided interceptions.
Dye picked up most of the offensive slack, gaining 149 yards on 28 carries.
The Trojans defense kept transfer quarterback Cameron Ward in check. He accounted for only 177 total yards, only five on the ground.
Junior defensive tackle Tuli Tuipulotu led the defense, recording three sacks and another tackle for a loss. He now has seven sacks on the season.
It was the first time all year the Trojans defense didn’t record a turnover, but with five sacks, they didn’t need to turn the ball over.
Coach Lincoln Riley will need his quarterback to be more productive against Utah, which can’t afford to lose another Pac 12 game.
SHOWCASE GAME: The Chargers face the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football at SoFI Stadium Oct. 17. While it’s too early in the season to call this a showdown, it would be a good time for the Chargers to step up and take down a division rival.
The Chargers are 3-2, a game better than the Broncos and a game behind the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West standings. After a 1-2 start, they righted the ship Oct. 9 with a 30-28 win over the Cleveland Browns that second-year coach Brandon Staley almost gave away late in the game when he went for it on fourth down and gave the ball back to the Browns near midfield.
Fortunately, Browns kicker Cade York missed a 54-yard field goal with 11 seconds left and the Chargers escaped with a win. Staley likes to gamble on fourth down, but there is a time to gamble in football and there is a time to play it safe.
With 1:14 to play and the ball at your own 46-yard line, the correct call is to punt the ball, especially when your opponent has no more time outs. Fortunately, the Chargers defense didn’t let the Browns get much closer and the kicker missed a long field goal try.
Even injured wide receiver Keenan Allen, watching from home, couldn’t believe Staley went for it on fourth down. His tweet, “WTF are we doing,” was later deleted.
Denver is getting adjusted to a new head coach, Nathaniel Hackett, and a new quarterback, Russell Wilson and they don’t seem to be on the same page yet.
Like his dad, former USC head coach Paul Hackett, Nathaniel Hackett is considered a strong offensive coach. Like his dad, the jury is still out on whether he is a good head coach.
We could know more after Oct. 17.
HANGOVER TIME?: Maybe there is something to the Super Bowl hangover. Or maybe it’s just a horrible offensive line, made worse by an ever-changing starting lineup.
Whatever it is, the Rams are 2-3 after five weeks and are looking nothing like a Super Bowl team.
The Dallas Cowboys sacked Matthew Stafford five times in a 22-10 win Oct. 9 that wasn’t really that close.
The Rams outgained the Cowboys by 84 yards, but they turned the ball over three times and never took it away from the Cowboys, who are playing without injured quarterback Dak Prescott.
Backup quarterback Cooper Rush threw only 16 passes, completing 10 for 102 yards. The Rams Cooper Kupp accounted for more yards (125 on seven catches), but five sacks and three turnovers are too many for the Rams, who may be playing with their sixth different offensive line combination this week when they face Carolina Oct. 16 at SoFi Stadium.
The Rams are only a game behind the 49ers in the NFC West standings, but they need to give more protection to Stafford.
He has been sacked 18 times in their three losses this season and only three times in their two wins. It might help if the Rams could develop a running game, but that has been nonexistent most of the season. The Rams are averaging 62 yards rushing a game.
Last year the Rams scored 30 or more points seven times. They have done that once this year, a 31-7 win over the Atlanta Falcons.
They need a win over the Panthers this week because the next two weeks are against the 49ers and Tampa Bay with Tom Brady.