Professional Sports

SPORTS DIGEST: Despite injuries, the Dodgers are back in contention

By Don Wanlass

Staff Writer

What a difference three weeks make.

On May 16, Dodgers fans were acting like the sky had fallen. Their favorite team had lost two straight games to the lowly Miami Marlins after being swept at home in a four-game weekend series by the Cincinnati Reds.

The Dodgers were 16-26 on the season and were 8 ½ games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League West.

The next day, the Dodgers defeated the Marlins, 7-0, to snap their six-game losing streak. They flew to Washington where they swept a three-game series against the Washington Nationals and flew home with a four-game winning streak.

The Dodgers are now in the midst of a 14-4 run that has put them within two games of the Diamondbacks and they are very much a part of the playoff picture with about 100 games left to play.

The surprising part of the turnaround is the Dodgers have gone on this run while the members of their starting rotation are visiting the disabled list.

Of the five pitchers who opened the season in the rotation, only Alex Wood remains and he is 1-4 on the season, the same record Clayton Kershaw has.

Kershaw is on the disabled list with his annual back ailment. When he returns is anyone’s guess.

Rich Hill also is on the disabled list with a blister problem on the middle finger of his throwing hand, Kenta Maeda has a strained hip. Hyun-Jin Ryu has a torn groin muscle.

But the Dodgers operate with a philosophy of “next man up” and whoever manager Dave Roberts plugs in to fill a hole seems to perform well.

Ross Stripling won his fourth game June 5 after wasting away in the bullpen last year. Walker Buehler, the Dodgers top draft pick in 2015, has pitched like a veteran since he moved into the rotation, posting a 3-1 record and a 2.74 earned run average.

The latest additions to the rotation, left hander Caleb Ferguson, who started June 6; and Dennis Santana, who was scheduled to start June 7; were both pitching for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, the Dodgers Single A minor league team, this time last year.

Santana made his major league debut June 1 in Colorado against the Rockies. He was battered for five runs in 3 2/3 innings of relief but was credited with the victory as the Dodgers won 11-8. Santana helped his own cause by ripping a double to left with the bases loaded to drive in two runs.

The Dodgers are designed to survive injuries.

Team President Andrew Friedman uses the 40-man roster better than most team leaders creating depth in the minor leagues that the Dodgers can tap into when injuries happen.

Last year he plucked Chris Taylor and Cody Bellinger out of Oklahoma City in late April when the Dodgers had a couple of injury holes to fill.

The two became major factors in the lineup, where they remain, although Bellinger is having some second-year challenges. Still, he has nine home runs already this season.

This year, there have been two surprise factors for the Dodgers offense: utility man Max Muncy, who hit .195 over 96 games for the Oakland As in 2015 and 2016; and Matt Kemp.

Muncy was signed as a free agent by the Dodgers in April 2017 after being released by Oakland and spent all of last season in the minors.

He already has nine home runs and 23 runs batted in in 39 games for the Dodgers, while playing first base, third base and some outfield.

Kemp returned to the Dodgers after spending three years in exile with the Padres and Braves. The Dodgers spent all of spring training trying to trade him.

He currently leads the National League in hitting at .344 with nine home runs and 34 RBI. He was selected the National league Player of the Week last week after going 9 for 21 at the plate with three home runs, 8 RBI and 6 runs scored. He also threw a base runner out at home.

There is still plenty of baseball left to be played. But the Dodgers are back in contention, even with 80 percent of their rotation on the disabled list. Things are looking up again.

NBA RUNAWAY?: The Cleveland Cavaliers let the Golden State Warriors off the hook in game 1 of the NBA Finals.

They might not recover. Going in to game 3 June 6, the Cavaliers could be on the verge of being blown out. Or they could bounce back like they did two years ago against the same Warriors.

Don’t expect the latter to happen.

The Warriors have too much firepower, a better bench and a better coach. All three have been in display in the series.

Since George Hill missed that free throw in the final minute of regulation in game one, the Cavaliers have been spiraling downward and not even the great LeBron James can pull them out of the spiral. James is the best player on the planet, but he can’t do this job by himself.

Kevin Love has been a good second option for the Cavaliers, but they need a third and fourth option, too, and no one is stepping up.

Perhaps the third best player for the Cavs so far has been Larry Nance Jr., who the Lakers traded in February. Nance can rebound, play defense and hustle, but he is not much of a scoring threat, which is what the Cavs need right about now.

Jordan Clarkson, the other Laker traded to Cleveland in February, has wilted in his first taste of playoff pressure. That series should be over after game five June 11, if it doesn’t end June 8.