SPORTS DIGEST: Dodgers’ pitching depth tested in final week of season

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By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

The grueling 162-game schedule in Major League Baseball separates the 12 best teams (six in each league) from the other 18 teams.

The month of October then determines the World Series champion, which is not always the bet team in baseball.

Over the years, the teams that have had the greatest regular seasons haven’t always fared well in the post-season, which consisted of only the World Series until 1969.

Only five of the top 10 teams with the most wins in a season went on to win the World Series: the 1998 New York Yankees, the 1927 Yankees, the 1909 Pittsburgh Pirates, the 1961 Yankees and the 2018 Boston Red Sox.

Three of the four teams posting the highest win totals in history failed to win the World Series: the 2001 Seattle Mariners and 1906 Chicago Cubs, who both won 116 games, and the 1954 Cleveland Indians, who won 111.

Only the 1998 Yankees, with 114 wins, managed to win the World Series after posting more than 110 wins in a season.

All this leads up to the fact that the Dodgers, who have had the best record in baseball for most of the season and will set a new franchise record for most wins in a season, may not win the World Series this year.

With eight games to go, the Dodgers will have to fall on their face not to have the home-field advantage in the postseason. But their pitching staff, the key to their season-long success, is starting to fray at the edges if not altogether falling apart at the seams.

The starting rotation is down to four left-handed pitchers — Julio Urias, Clayton Kershaw, Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney — unless either Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May can bounce back from arm and back injuries between now and Oct. 11 when the National League Divisional Series starts.

The bullpen is still awaiting the hoped-for return of Blake Treinen, but with every day that passes the chances of him coming back from a shoulder injury seem remote at best.

Former closer Craig Kimbrel, forced into a high-leverage situation for the first time in a while Sept. 27, walked Jorge Alfaro — who hadn’t walked since July — with the bases loaded in the 10th inning in a 4-3 loss to the San Diego Padres.

That will put Kimbrel deeper into manager Dave Roberts’ doghouse and now he is a candidate for being left off the roster entirely when the Dodgers start the playoffs. Kimbrel is 6-7 on the season with a 4.02 earned run average. Only reliever Phil Bickford has a higher ERA out of the bullpen.

Roberts will go to a closer-by-committee formula for the last eight games of the season to see if someone emerges as a capable replacement for Kimbrel. Treinen would be the top candidate if he were healthy.

Tommy Kahnle, who pitched a scoreless ninth ahead of Kimbrel Sept. 27, might be a possibility, but he has pitched in only 10 games this year while bouncing back from Tommy John surgery and other arm ailments. He has a fresh arm if nothing else.

Evan Phillips has been the best pitcher out of the bullpen all season, but Roberts seems more inclined to use him like he used to use Treinen, in high-leverage situations prior to the ninth inning.

If Dustin May was healthy, he could be a ninth-inning alternative, much like Julio Urias was in the 2020 World Series after Roberts lost confidence in Kenley Jansen.

All those Dodgers fans who booed Jansen last year would happily take him back now. He is 5-2 with 37 saves for the Braves this year and his ERA is half a run lower than Kimbrel’s.

Team President Andrew Friedman stresses organizational depth in building a roster, not only at the major league level but throughout the 40-man roster and top minor league affiliate Oklahoma City. The Dodgers have used 31 pitchers this season, compared to only 21 positional players.

The Dodgers have enough offense to win the World Series. Nine players in the lineup have more than 10 home runs and five have more than 20. Five have driven in more than 80 runs.

Their defense has been shaky lately, but that will improve once the playoffs start and the players intensify their focus.

But the pitching staff, the bread-and-butter of this team all season, needs to get healthier in a hurry or the Dodgers could join the list of great teams that couldn’t finish in the postseason.

A TRUE TEST: The UCLA Bruins might finally get tested Sept. 30 when they face the Washington Huskies in the Rose Bowl at 7:30 p.m. in a game that will be televised nationally on ESPN.

Both teams are scoring more than 40 points a game while rolling up 4-0 records. Washington has played the tougher schedule, defeating Michigan State 39-28, and Stanford, 40-22, in the last two weeks after defeating Kent State 45-20 in the season opener and rolling over Portland State 52-6 the following week.

The Huskies moved up to 15th this week in the Associated Press’ Top 25 college football poll, jumping three sports from the previous week. The Pac 12 now has four teams in the Top 25. UCLA isn’t one of them, despite its 4-0 record.

The Bruins opened Pac 12 play Sept. 24 with a 45-17 win over Colorado, the third time in four games Chip Kelly’s team has scored 45 points. But their earlier wins over Bowling Green, Alabama State and a nail biter against South Alabama didn’t impress the voters who have Washington State and Oregon State higher ranked than the Bruins among others receiving votes, despite both teams losing last week.

The Bruins are being led offensively by fifth-year starting quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who has thrown for 896 yards and eight touchdowns and averaged eight yards every time he runs the ball.

Running back Zach Charbonnet has gained 293 yards in three games and scored four touchdowns while sharing time with Keegan Jones.

Duke transfer Jake Bobo and Kazmeir Allen have become Thompson-Robinson’s favorite receivers, the only two in double figures receiving so far.

Defensively, the Bruins have eight turnovers in four games, but they will be tested by a tough Washington team led by quarterback Michael Penix, a transfer from Indiana. Penix has thrown for 1,388 yards and 12 touchdowns.

The Huskies also have 10 rushing touchdowns.

Defensively, the Huskies have seven takeaways in their four wins.

The Huskies have been an early-season surprise under first-year coach Kalen DeBoer, who led Fresno State to a 9-3 season last year while Washington was going 4-8.

The winner becomes one of the favorites to play in the Pac 12 Championship Game in Las Vegas in December. The loser goes back to the drawing board.

It should be a Friday night game worth watching.

SURVIVORS: That’s what the USC Trojans are after their first road trip of the 2022 season. The Trojans found themselves down 14-10 late in the fourth quarter against Oregon State in a hostile environment in Corvallis, Oregon.

With 4:41 to go in the game, the Trojans found themselves on their own 16-yard line. Somehow they managed to find the end zone for only the second time that night.

Quarterback Caleb Williams led an 11-play drive that ate up more than three minutes of the clock. He hit receiver Jordan Addison with a 21-yard scoring pass to win the game, move the Trojans to 4-0 on the season and up to No. 6 in the AP Poll.

It should be easier this week for the Trojans, who host the 1-3 Arizona State Sun Devils at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 1 at the Coliseum in a game that will be televised by ESPN.

The Sun Devils find themselves in the same situation the Trojans were in last year. They already lost their head coach, with Herm Edwards getting fired after losing to Eastern Michigan, 30-21 in the third week of the season.

The Sun Devils were hit hard by off-season transfers and should be easy pickings for the Trojans. Their only chance could be the Trojans’ mental state.

USC is coming off its first tough test of the season and has two more tough tests coming up against Washington State Oct. 8 and at Utah Oct. 15 before their bye week.

They managed to escape against Oregon State and have enough talent to survive against Arizona State

Williams had by far his worst game as a Trojan against Oregon State. He completed only 16 of 36 passes for 180 yards and the touchdown to Addison.

The best offensive player for the Trojans was running back Travis Dye who gained 133 yards on 19 carries and the Trojans other touchdown.

Defensively, the Trojans gave up 320 yards but they intercepted four passes, the third time in four games they have had four takeaways.

Offensively, the Trojans haven’t turned the ball over yet this season.

WHAT WAS THAT?: I had a family commitment Sept. 25 and was very surprised to check my phone that afternoon and see the Chargers had lost to Jacksonville, 38-10. Jacksonville?

I guess Justin Herbert was too banged up to play, I thought to myself. Wrong.

Herbert, who broke cartilage in his ribs the week before against the Kansas City Chiefs, gutted it out against the Jaguars, throwing for 297 yards and a touchdown.

But the Chargers could only gain 26 yards on the ground and their banged-up defense, which lost Joey Boza again, couldn’t slow down the Jaguars, who rolled up 413 yards, converted eight of 15 third downs and held the ball for 38 out of 60 minutes.

That leaves the Chargers facing a crucial road game Oct. 2 against the Houston Texans, who are looking for their first win of the season. Four weeks into the season, it’s hard to say any game is a must game, but at 1-2, the Chargers can’t afford to lose this one.

Herbert is expected to play again, although I’m not sure what head coach Brandon Staley was thinking, allowing Herbert to stay in the game in the fourth quarter against Jacksonville with the game long since decided.

Staley said Herbert didn’t want to come out of the game and that he wanted to be there for his teammates, but Staley is the coach, his quarterback is injured and he should have pulled him.

The Rams, 2-1, get the Monday Night Football spotlight Oct. 3, facing the 1-2 San Francisco 49ers on the road.

 

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