Two best teams play to advance in NLDS finale

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SPORTS DIGEST

By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

Take away the 19 regular season games against the Giants and the Dodgers had a .678 winning percentage this year.

That percentage falls to .654 when you factor in the Giants’ 10 wins in the 19 meetings.

Over the last five years, the Dodgers have won games at a .636 percentage rate. They have averaged 90 wins a year over those five years despite only playing 60 games all of last season.

In other words, Dodgers fans have been spoiled by all this winning and are quick to turn on whoever they choose to blame on those occasional games the Dodgers happen to lose. 

Thus, manager Dave Roberts, who only goes to the postseason every year he has managed; future Hall of Fame pitcher Clayton Kershaw; closer Kenley Jansen, who could someday follow Kershaw to Cooperstown; and Cody Bellinger, a former rookie of the year and most valuable player who has played through injuries all season; have all felt the wrath of Dodgers fans online and in person this year.

Those fans need to realize they are watching one of the best teams in history.

This Dodger teams ranks with the Yankees of the 1920s or 1950s, or the Cincinnati Reds of the 1970s, among the best teams ever.

No team has ever put together three seasons of 104 wins or more in a five-year stretch like the Dodgers have.

That being said, there is a segment of Dodger fans who will be pointing fingers at Roberts, Bellinger, Jansen or whoever fails to perform in game five of the Dodgers-Giants National League Divisional Series Oct. 15 in Oracle Park in San Francisco.

The eyes of the baseball world will be focused on the two best teams of the 2021 baseball season. It’s too bad this is the end of the opening round of the playoffs and not the National League Championship Series.

Two old-school rivals going at it in one last game to decide who moves on.

Some of the Giants have been here before. Catcher Buster Posey and shortstop Brandon Crawford played on the Giants teams that won World Series championships in 2010, 2012 and 2014.

Both teams are missing their starting first basemen. The Dodgers lost Max Muncy to a dislocated elbow in the last game of the season. The Giants lost Brandon Belt to a broken thumb in the last week of the season. Belt played on those three World Series teams, too.

In the first four games of the series, pitching has been the key. The Giants have shut out the Dodgers in games 1 and 3. The Dodgers held the Giants to two runs in their two wins.

The Dodgers have outscored the Giants, 16-9, but the Giants have managed to score in all four games.

Game 5 pits 20-game winner Julio Urias on the mound for the Dodgers against Logan Webb, who handcuffed the Dodgers in game 1.

Webb gave up only five hits in 7 2/3 innings in the series opener, striking out 10 and walking none in a dominating performance. It might be hard to duplicate that outing six days later with the Dodgers now familiar with his approach.

Of course, the Giants saw Urias five days ago and know what he has to offer. Look for this to be a low-scoring, intense game that goes down to the last out.

The winner will be the favorite to win the World Series. The loser will have all winter to get over the bitter disappointment.

The Giants have veterans Posey, Crawford and Evan Longoria on offense and Webb on the mound and players who have risen to the occasion all season long.

The Dodgers have Mookie Betts, Trea and Justin Turner and Corey Seager.

Both teams have solid supporting casts with position players and relief pitchers.

It should be a great game. When it’s over, it will be a shame that one of these great teams is going home.

WHO ARE THESE GUYS? I have spent a considerable amount of space over the last four years making fun of the Los Angeles Chargers. It fact, I still catch myself occasionally typing San Diego instead of Los Angeles.

Most of the jokes have been about the Chargers’ lack of a home field advantage, both at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson and now at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood.

But, Oct. 10 the Chargers actually had a home field advantage in their 47-42 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Their fans outnumbered the Bengals fans and were louder, too, spurring their team to 34 second-half points in a come-from-behind victory that put the Chargers atop the AFC West standings.

The Chargers have a bonafide star quarterback in Justin Herbert. He completed 26 of 43 passes for 398 yards and four touchdowns. Two of the touchdowns came on bombs of 72 and 42 yards to wide receiver Mike Williams. 

He also ran for a touchdown while gaining 29 yards on 4 carries.

It was as good as a game as you will ever see in October in the NFL. There were four lead changes and a tie in the fourth quarter alone when the teams combined for 41 points. The Chargers scored 26 of those, including the final six with 1:31 left in the fourth quarter.

Austin Ekeler scored on a 3-yard touchdown run that he really didn’t want to score. The Browns, realizing the Chargers were trying to run the clock down before scoring in the last seconds of what was then a 42-41 game, literally dragged Ekeler across the goal line to give their own young quarterback one last chance.  

The Browns are a playoff-caliber team with Baker Mayfield at quarterback. He isn’t as big or fast as Herbert, but is still a quality quarterback who can move outside the pocket, which is essential in the modern NFL. 

Mayfield completed 23 of 32 passes for 305 yards and two touchdowns.

But the Chargers kept him from moving the ball in the last 90 seconds to hold on to their third win in a row on the way to a 4-1 record.

The Chargers get a stiff test this week, flying back east to play the Baltimore Ravens, who also are 4-1. The Chargers historically don’t play well at 10 a.m. games on the East Coast.

And they will have to try and corral Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, who might be the best two-way threat at quarterback since Michael Vick’s heyday. A victory will prove that head coach Brandon Staley’s team is for real. 

And it might put more Chargers fans in the seats as SoFi Stadium.

HEADING EAST, TOO: The Rams head east this week, too, but with a lot easier opponent than the Chargers have.

The 4-1 Rams face the 1-4 New York Giants at 10 a.m. Oct. 17. The Giants won’t have running back Saquon Barkley, who is out with an ankle injury, and might not have quarterback Daniel Jones, who is in concussion protocol.

The Giants would have a tough time beatng the Rams with those two. It will be difficult trying to outscore the Rams loaded offense without them.

Matthew Stafford is getting more comfortable with his receivers the more familiar he becomes with them.

Last week, it was Robert Woods’ chance to step forward. He stepped up big time, catching 12 passes for 150 yards. He didn’t catch a touchdown pass, but he did help move the chains plenty of times.   

Stafford only threw one scoring pass but he passed for 365 yards, averaging more than 9 yards an attempt and 14 yards a completion.

Derrell Henderson had his best game running the ball this season, with 82 yards in 17 carries and a touchdown.

The only concern for the Rams came from their kicking game. Matt Gay missed an extra point and had two kickoffs sail out of bounds, which gave the Seattle Seahawks good field position.

The Rams biggest break in the game was the middle finger on Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson’s throwing hand. He dislocated it when it hit Aaron Donald’s hand on a follow through in the third quarterback.

Geno Smith replaced Wilson. He has thrown 26 passes since 2017 and 118 since 2014 when he was the New York Jets starting quarterback.

Smith completed 10 of 17 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown after replacing Wilson. He also was intercepted once.

He led the Seahawks to 10 fourth-quarter points, but the Rams matched that after outscoring the Seahawks 14-0 in the third quarter.

OLD COLLEGE TRY: UCLA managed to stay afloat in the Pac 12 Southern Division race with a 34-16 road win over the Arizona Wildcats Oct. 9.

The Bruins schedule officially gets difficult the next two weeks with a game in Seattle against the University of Washington Oct. 16 followed by a Rose Bowl game against Oregon. The Bruins need a split to stay in the race for relevance in the Pac 12.

Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is beat up but still guiding the Bruins offense. He completed only 8 of 19 passes for 82 yards against the Wildcats, but the Bruins got their running game going.

Brittain Brown and Zach Charbonnet both gained more than 100 yards and the Bruins rolled up 320 yards rushing.

Brown’s 48-yard touchdown run halfway through the fourth quarter put the game out of reach as the Bruins improved to 4-2 on the season, 3-1 in Pac 12 play.

While the Bruins continued their drive to relevance in this year’s Pac 12 race, the USC Trojans became irrelevant, losing to Utah, 42-26 in a game that wasn’t that close. 

The Trojans trailed 42-10 early in the fourth quarter before scoring the last 16 points. 

Quarterback Kedon Slovis continued to make USC fans long for the return of Jaxson Dart. He managed to complete 33 of 53 passes for 401 yards, but most of that came in the football equivalent of garbage time.

Slovis did manage to find Drake London 16 times for 162 yards and a touchdown, but teams are learning to blanket London in coverage, daring Slovis to throw to somebody else. So far, nobody has stepped up, but that’s true of most of this USC roster. This team was supposed to be a lot better than 3-3.

The Trojans are off this week to lick their wounds before traveling to South Bend, Indiana, to play Notre Dame.

That game might be hard to watch this year.

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