SPORTS DIGEST: Dodgers looking forward to start of postseason

By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

To the Los Angeles Dodgers, the regular season is an inconvenience, something they have to go through to get to the postseason.

Since Andrew Friedman became the director of baseball operations after the 2014 season, the Dodgers have been built for the postseason. They have made it all nine years Friedman has been running the team, winning eight National League Western Division titles along the way.

In those nine seasons, the Dodgers have been to the World Series three times, winning in the COVID-shortened 2020 season. Only one team — the hated Houston Astros — has appeared in more World Series over the past nine seasons, so the Dodgers have been doing something right, even if only one World Series title in the last 35 years is not enough for most Dodgers’ fans.

The Dodgers begin this postseason Oct. 7, playing the winner of the Arizona Diamondbacks-Milwaukee Brewers wild card series. The Diamondbacks won the opener of the series 6-3 Oct. 3.

The Dodgers were 5-1 against the Brewers and 8-5 against the Diamondbacks during the season. The Dodgers and Diamondbacks met eight times in the first 10 games of the season, with the Diamondbacks winning five of the eight. Since then, the Dodgers are 5-0 against their division foe. 

As the postseason gets underway, most observers have the Dodgers the second favorite to get to the World Series behind the Atlanta Braves. The Dodgers, the Braves and the Baltimore Orioles are the only three teams to win 100 or more games this season. That doesn’t mean anything once the postseason begins.

The Dodgers won 111 games last season. They won once in the postseason.

To advance in the postseason the Dodgers are going to rely heavily on the arms of rookie pitchers who weren’t on the major league roster when the season began.

Due to an injury-ravaged starting rotation, the Dodgers rotation consists of veterans Clayton Kershaw and Lance Lynn and rookies Bobby Miller, Ryan Pepiot and Emmett Sheehan.

Kershaw spent six weeks on the injured list because of a sore shoulder in July and August and hasn’t pitched more than five innings in a game since. He gets by more on guile than velocity these days.

Lynn was a trade-deadline acquisition who has been hot and cold over the last two months and gives up too many home runs. He has posted a 7-2 record since coming over from the White Sox. 

It’s those two losses that concern manager Dave Roberts. In back-to-back starts Aug. 31 and Sept. 6, Lynn was tagged for 15 runs in nine innings, including six home runs. All told, Lynn gave up 16 homers in his 11 starts with the Dodgers.

Roberts has said Kershaw will start game one and Miller will start game two. It will be interesting to see if the veteran Lynn or the rookie Pepiot will start game three.

Don’t expect to see the starters lasting more than five or six innings, either. The Dodgers solidified their bullpen over the last two months and Roberts won’t hesitate to bring in fresh arms as the game progresses.

The brilliant people who schedule the playoffs have the Dodgers sitting on the sideline for six days after ending the season Oct. 1. After playing game 1 of the National League Division Series Oct. 7, the Dodgers have Oct. 8 off. Game 2 is Oct. 9 with another day off, followed by games 3 and 4 Oct.11 and 12, another day off Oct. 13 and game 5 Oct. 14, if necessary.

That should allow the Dodgers to get through the opening series with only three starters.

Look for the bullpen to make a major difference in how the Dodgers perform in the postseason. Since June 20, the Dodgers have the best bullpen in the major leagues.

Evan Phillips is entrenched as the closer and the back end of the bullpen is led by Ryan Brasier as the high-leverage guy who could be called on in the sixth, seventh or eighth inning, depending on who is coming up to bat.

Behind Phillips and Brasier, the Dodgers have Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly, Brusdar Graterol, Caleb Ferguson and Alex Vesia, to get to Phillips and the ninth inning.

The Dodgers have hit and hit in the clutch all season. That must continue in the postseason, especially if the Braves are the second-round opponent. 

Mookie Betts and Fredie Freeman need to lead the way at the top of the lineup, Will Smith, Max Muncy and J.D. Martinez need to knock them in and the bottom of the lineup needs to get on base and give Betts and Freeman a chance to do more damage.

For the first time in franchise history the Dodgers had four hitters — Betts, Freeman, Muncy and Martinez — with more than 100 runs batted in. Betts, Muncy and Martinez all hit more than 30 home runs. 

The Dodgers finished the season with 249 home runs, second in the National League to the Braves, who tied a major league record with 307. 

 The Braves have a potent batting order. Ten players hit 10 or more home runs during the season. Five hit more than 30 and three hit more than 40.

Atlanta will definitely test the Dodgers’ pitching staff.   

The Braves may seem to be the better team going in to the playoffs, but they have a couple of question marks in their starting rotation. Both Max Fried and Charlie Morton ended the season on the injured list.

Spencer Strider is the pitching ace for the Braves, finishing the season with a 20-5 record, although his earned run average is a pedestrian 3.86. When you score as much as the Braves do, you can survive with an ERA that high. Brice Elder is the second best starter with a 12-4 record and a 3.81 ERA. 

The Braves might be in trouble if Fried and Morton are unable to go, but like the Dodgers, they have some talented young arms in the organization. 

The Dodgers finished the season with 100 wins, the fourth time in five years they have won at least 100 games.

They need to win 11 more games to win another World Series. That is the ultimate goal. The road begins Oct. 7.

WHERE’S THE DEFENSE?: The Rams, the Chargers and USC all had the same problem this past week. Their defenses had problems holding on to leads their offenses built.

The Trojans had a 48-20 lead against Colorado Sept. 30 with five minutes left in the third quarter. They held on for a 48-41 victory.

The Rams led the Indianapolis Colts 23-0 midway through the third quarter Oct. 1. They won 29-23 in overtime.

Later that day, the Chargers led the Las Vegas Raiders 24-7 at halftime. They held on to win 24-17.

The Rams and the Chargers were both hampered in the second half by injuries to their quarterbacks. Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford injured his hip while getting sacked and limped around for most of the second half. He did manage to lead a 75-yard scoring drive in overtime that was capped by a 22-yard touchdown pass to sensational rookie wide receiver Puka Nacua. 

Justin Herbert injured the middle finger on his non-throwing left hand against the Raiders and was obviously struggling in the fourth quarter.

After an 0-2 start, the Chargers are now 2-2 going into the bye week. Herbert has two weeks to get healed before the Chargers play again on Oct. 16, a Monday night game against the Dallas Cowboys.

The Rams also are 2-2 facing a tough game against the unbeaten Philadelphia Eagles Oct. 8 at SoFi Stadium. 

Cooper Kupp may return at wide receiver for the Eagles, giving Stafford another target. With Kupp out with a hamstring injury, Nacua, a rookie from BYU, has been breaking rookie receiving records so far this year. 

In four weeks, he has 39 receptions for 501 yards, both records for rookies after four weeks. Of Nacua’s 39 catches, 25 have been for first downs.

The Chargers have managed to overcome their coach’s penchant for gambling on fourth down late in the game. The Chargers defense had to stop the Raiders late in the fourth quarter after coach Brandon Staley gambled and lost on a fourth-and-one play at the Chargers 34 yard line with 3:34 to play in a 24-17 game. 

Fortunately, cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. intercepted a pass at the three yard line and the Chargers were able to run out the clock.

Staley needs to find another outlet for his gambling urges.

USC will try to solve its defensive woes, which are mostly caused by poor tackling, when it faces Arizona at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 7 at the Coliseum. The Arizona game is a trap game for the 5-0 Trojans who might be looking ahead to Notre Dame Oct. 14 in South Bend.

The Fighting Irish are currently ranked 10th in the AP College Football Poll. The Trojans are ranked ninth. Caleb Williams continues to put up huge statistics. Against Colorado, he completed 30 of 40 passes for 403 yards and six touchdowns. He also threw his first interception of the year.

On the season, Williams has completed 74.5% of his passes for 1,603 yards and 21 touchdowns.

UCLA comes off a bye week to host Washington State at noon Oct. 7 at the Rose Bowl. The 3-1 Bruins will have a tough task to contain Washington State’s high powered offense that has led the Cougars to a 4-0 record and the No. 13 ranking in the AP poll.