SPORTS DIGEST: Dodgers off to good start, but that was expected

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By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

Through the first 11 games of the season, the Dodgers are 8-3. It’s too small a sample size to make any rash judgments, but the Dodgers will win an overwhelming majority of their games as long as they score three runs or more each game.

They have scored three runs or more in nine games so far. They have won eight of those. They have failed to score three runs only twice, both losses.

If the Dodgers have a flaw, it is that their bats can go silent for most of a game. They have only scored in three or more innings in a game twice.

They scored in three different innings in a 7-4 win over the Atlanta Braves April 18 and in four different innings in a 7-0 win over the Minnesota Twins April 13.

They tend to score their runs in bunches. In 11 games, they have scored three or more runs in an inning 11 times. Seven times they have scored four or more runs in an inning.

The pitching is more consistent than the hitting. Dodger pitchers have combined to give up more than three runs in a game only twice in the first 11. They are 10-1 in those games.

Does that mean the Dodgers are on their way to their second World Series championship in three years. Not necessarily.

Once again, the Dodgers are playing in the best division in baseball. Only the Mets, at 9-3, have a better record. But of the four teams in the major leagues with eight or more wins, three are in the National League Western Division. And the Giants are 7-4, one game behind the Dodgers and Rockies.

It’s a long season, but barring a series of major injuries to key players, the Dodgers should be among the division leaders all season.

They have balance. They can hit, pitch and field. They have three former most valuable players — Cody Bellinger, Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman — in the lineup every day, four when Clayton Kershaw starts.

Their starting rotation is so deep that former Cy Young Award-winning pitcher David Price is pitching out of the bullpen.

The bullpen lost the best closer in team history to free agency and replaced him with the only active player with more career saves than him.

And they have a front office that stresses organizational depth, so their top minor league team in Oklahoma City has players who are ready to be plugged in to the major league roster when necessary due to injury or lack of production.

The Dodgers are designed to be good and to be good for a long time.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 10 years since then-Commissioner Bud Selig took control of the team away from owner Frank McCourt. Eleven months later, the Guggenheim group agreed to buy the team from McCourt, who bankrupted the franchise while living it up before a messy divorce exposed his failings as a team owner.

The Guggenheim group has been to the playoffs every year and has laid the foundation for the team’s current success.

Men who have taken the Dodgers model to other places — the Giants and the Braves are two teams that immediately come to mind — have been successful at building teams that rely on good pitching, a solid lineup and organizational depth.

The Dodgers had a successful model in the 1950 and 60s of building rosters by signing good players and developing them through the minor leagues into major league players who knew how to win together.

It’s a different era and a different model, but most fans would be happy if looking back 30 years from now, the Dodgers can say they were in eight World Series over a 20-year period like they were in the 1950s and 60s.

DECENT ROSTER: Watching the NBA Playoffs, I am struck by how many good former Lakers are still playing. Brandon Ingram and Larry Nance Jr. are giving the Phoenix Suns all they can handle for the New Orleans Pelicans, D’Angelo Russell is knocking down outside jumpers and running the Minnesota Timberwolves offense against Memphis, and Alex Caruso is playing hard-nosed defense for the Chicago Bulls.

Julius Randle, Kyle Kuzma and Ivica Zubac have all gone home for the summer. Lonzo Ball is out for the season with a knee injury with the Bulls.

Those eight players and LeBron James and Anthony Davis would make for a good 10-man rotation, if they were all still on the Lakers.

This should be a warning to future general managers throughout the league who decide to capitulate to a star player who wants to play with “veteran” players.

The Lakers, whose roster was full of “veteran” players this season, are home watching the playoffs because those veterans did not mesh well with each other.

Chemistry is important in building a winning team. The Dodgers seem to have it. The Lakers don’t.

Their new coach better be able to develop chemistry in a hurry.

SPRING FOOTBALL: USC fans can get a preview of what the Trojans will look like in the fall at the spring game April 23. ESPN will televise the game live at noon from the Coliseum.

A spring game is usually nothing more than a glorified scrimmage, but it will give fans their first glimpse of new head coach Lincoln Riley’s offense and how transfer quarterback Caleb Williams runs it.

Riley has promised that the spring game will be physical and that the Trojans have been working on tackling during spring drills, something that should make many fans happy given the recent defensive showings of the Trojans.

UCLA also is having its spring game April 23. It will be shown on the Pac 12 Network (if you can find it).

 

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