SPORTS DIGEST: Dodgers return to action as first-place team again

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By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

The Dodgers play the New York Mets in a three-game starting July 14 at the end of the all-star break, the dullest week of the year on the sports calendar.

Despite an up-and-down first half of the season, the Dodgers find themselves in first place in the National League West Division by two percentage points over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The trade deadline is still more than two weeks away, giving team President Andrew Friedman plenty of time to put together a trade or two to get the Dodgers ready for the stretch run.

Friedman has a few options. Number one is making a big push to acquire Shohei Ohtani from the Angels. Ohtani is a free agent at the end of the season. He wants to play on a winning team.

The Angels have lost nine of their last 10 games, trail the division-leading Texas Rangers by seven games and are five games back in the wild card race. Oh, and Mike Trout is hurt again.

In other words, the Angels aren’t going anywhere and they need to move Ohtani for two or three top-level prospects and a regular player or two now, rather than get nothing but a compensatory draft pick for him when he leaves in free agency.

The Dodgers have the prospects. I wouldn’t trade Bobby Miller or Emmet Sheehan — two young starting pitchers who have been very impressive in their Major League debuts — but Gavin Stone, Michael Grove and the injured Ryan Pepiot would be better than most of the pitchers currently in the Angels starting rotation not named Ohtani.

The Dodgers also have some other youngsters in the farm system whose paths to the majors are currently being blocked, guys like infielder Michael Busch or catcher Diego Cartaya. And, since they are acquiring Ohtani, they can include designated hitter J.D. Martinez in the trade.

Martinez is not a fielder, so he will be expendable if Ohtani is coming on board. He can replace Ohtani’s bat in the Angels lineup and enter free agency again in the offseason.

That’s one scenario, but there are others.

The Dodgers could send a similar package to the Chicago White Sox for starting pitcher Lucas Giolito and shortstop Tim Anderson. 

Giolito will be 29 this week, is a Southern California native who is 6-5 with a 3.45 earned run average this season, while averaging barely more than a base runner per inning and has more strike outs than innings pitched. He will be a boost to the back end of the rotation, what the Dodgers hoped Noah Syndergard would be.

Anderson, who just turned 30, is not having a great year hitting (he’s at .223, with no home runs and 13 runs batted in so far) but he has a .282 career batting average, can field his position and steal bases.

He would be an improvement over Miguel Rojas, who would become the utility infielder the Dodgers envisioned when they acquired him from Miami in the off-season.

Or the Dodgers can try something else. At this point, they need help in the starting rotation, the bullpen and the middle infield (shortstop and second base). They also could use another right-hand hitting outfielder.

Fortunately, the Dodgers have the ability to make these deals and Friedman has done a masterful job in his years leading the team when it comes to trade deadline moves.

After a stretch in June when they went 4-10, the Dodgers are 11-5 and back on top of the National League West. They aren’t the juggernaut they were last season, but may be better focused for the post-season this time because they are not steamrolling the opposition like they did last year when they won 111 games only to lose early in the playoffs.

With Martinez, Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman and Will Smith, they have four solid hitters at the top of the lineup. 

Julio Urias looked like he was regaining his form in his last start and Miller and Sheehan have given the back end of the starting rotation a lift with their early performances. Even the bullpen has been better. It helps when your starting pitchers are lasting more than five innings a game.

The Dodgers are no longer the favorites to win the World Series this year. The Atlanta Braves have nine more wins than the Dodgers and the best record in baseball. The Tampa Bay have eight more wins.

But the Dodgers have got momentum going into the second half of the season and should get better with the trade deadline approaching. 

I like their chances for appearing in the playoffs for the 11th straight season.

ALL-STAR NOTES: While the Dodgers bullpen has struggled most of the season and manager Dave Roberts unable or unwilling to settle on a closer, it was interesting to see the Dodgers’ last two closers in this year’s All Star Game. 

Craig Kimbrel, now with the Philadelphia Phillies, earned the save in the game with a scoreless ninth inning. Kimbrel did it the same way he pitched for the Dodgers last year. He pitched himself into a jam and then got out of it.

After a rocky start to the season (he had a 6.35 ERA on May 21), Kimbrel is 5-1 with 14 saves while saving 14 games for the Phillies, who were in the World Series last year.

Kenley Jansen, who — like Kimbrel — surpassed the 400 mark in career saves earlier this season, got one out in the eighth inning for the American League. He has 19 saves and a 3.23 ERA for the Boston Red Sox this season.

DRAFT DODGER: The Dodgers made an interesting choice in the 20th (last) round of the Major League Draft July 11. They chose DJ Uiagalelei, who hasn’t played baseball since his junior year at St. John Bosco High in Bellflower four years ago.

Uiagalelei was a standout quarterback at Bosco, who started as a freshman at Clemson in 2020, but lost his starting job last season and transferred to Oregon State, where he expects to start this season.

Uiagalelei told ESPN in 2020 that baseball was always his favorite sport growing up and he intended to play both football and baseball at Clemson, but changed his mind after his freshman football season.

As a high school pitcher, his fastball was clocked at about 95 miles an hour and he also could hit with power.

A former assistant baseball coach at Clemson told the L.A. Times that Uiagalelei entered a student home run derby at Clemson in 2022 and hit a baseball out of the stadium. 

Uiagalelei was a can’t-miss NFL prospect after his freshman year at Clemson, but his stock has fallen since then. If he fails to impress NFL scouts this season (technically his junior year), the Dodgers have until next year at this time to sign him.

WORLD CUP: The Women’s World Cup begins July 20 in New Zealand and Australia, with the U.S. Women’s Team among the tournament favorites. The U.S. has four of the eight World Cup titles since the first Women’s World Cup in 1991.

The U.S. opens play against Vietnam July 21.

With an average age of 28, the U.S. team is one of the oldest in the tournament, but the team has an infusion of young talent to mesh with veterans like Megan Rapinoe, 38, Julie Ertz, 31, and Alex Morgan, 34.

They include Alyssa Thompson, 18, of Studio City, who just graduated from high school and is already starring for Angel City Football Club. 

Trinity Rodman, the daughter of former basketball player Dennis Rodman, is another young player on the roster. She scored two goals in the team’s final tune up before the World Cup against Wales.

The U.S. is in Group E with Vietnam, Netherlands and Portugal. The top two teams in each group advance to the knockout stage, which starts Aug. 5. The quarterfinals will be played Aug. 11 and 12 with the semifinals Aug. 15 and 16. The championship game will be played Aug. 20 in Sydney, Australia.

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