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SPORTS DIGEST: Dodgers back on top in National League West

LOS ANGELES — Here it is, June 1, and the Dodgers are back in front of the National League West.

Good luck, Colorado and Arizona in keeping up with them.

The Dodgers struggled through most of the first two months of the season, just like they always do. Two weeks ago they were 22-18.

But after winning 11 of their last 13 games, the Dodgers have climbed past the Rockies and Diamondbacks and are leading the National League West for the first time since April 6. And I’m starting to buy in to the philosophies of Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers president of baseball operations.

Friedman believes in roster depth. The Dodgers Triple A minor league franchise in Oklahoma City is not there to finish the development of young players, it is there to stash players who aren’t on the current 25-man roster, but may be needed in case of an injury or a slump.

Chris Taylor is one of those players. A player capable of playing second and third base as well as shortstop, Taylor had a great spring training in Arizona, but was the 26th man on a 25-man roster.

Utility player Kike Hernandez, didn’t hit as well during the spring as Taylor did, but Hernandez can play the outfield as well as the infield and that versatility gave him the last spot on the opening day roster.

Taylor went down to Oklahoma City without a protest and worked on his game. When Logan Forsythe went on the disabled list in late April with a broken toe, Taylor got the call. They won’t be seeing him back in Oklahoma City anytime soon.

He is hitting .319 with six home runs and is playing second base and center field while Joc Pederson recovers from a concussion.

Alex Wood is the Chris Taylor of the pitching staff. He was the sixth starter in a rotation that was only going to carry five starters so he started the season in the bullpen. But when Rich Hill again experienced blister issues on his left hand, he went on the disabled list and Wood replaced him in the rotation.

Wood is now 6-0 with a 1.69 earned run average and the Dodgers rotation is deeper than it was at the start of the year.

Friedman built the Dodgers to withstand the long, 162-game season. He knows there will be injuries to key players, but the depth he has built up by stockpiling good players at Oklahoma City, will pay dividends in the long run when the Dodgers don’t have to make a panic trade as they get closer to the end of July trade deadline.

Last year the Dodgers used more than 50 players during the season and used the disabled list 28 times. A lesser team would have fallen out of the playoff chase with that many injuries. Under Friedman, the Dodgers were able to withstand the injuries and player movement last year.

They are prepared to do the same this season.

LeBron James leads the Cleveland Cavaliers into the NBA Finals beginning June 1. It is the seventh year in a row James has played in the finals. (Courtesy photo)

FINALS FRENZY: After waiting a week, the NBA Finals get underway June 1 with the Cleveland Cavaliers facing the Golden State in Oakland for games one and two.

This is the third year in a row these two teams have met in the finals, which is the first time in league history the same two teams have met in the finals three years in a row.

The Warriors are the favorite to win the rubber match with the Cavaliers because of the off-season acquisition of Kevin Durant. The Warriors lost in seven games to the Cavs last year (after leading the series 3-1), and Durant, one of the top five players in the league, should be the difference maker.

But don’t expect this to be a walk in the park for the Warriors, even after they swept the three playoffs series leading up to this one.

The Cavaliers are better than the Spurs, though, mainly because they have Lebron James, the best player in the game today. Russell Westbrook or James Harden may win the most valuable player award this year, but James is still the best player in the league.

His team is playing in the NBA Finals for the seventh year in a row. Only Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics, who played in the finals from 1957 to 1966 can surpass James in that regard.

And James isn’t a one-man team. The Cavaliers have Kyrie Irving at point guard, Kevin Love at forward, Tristan Thomas at center and J.R. Smith at shooting guard.

Off the bench they have Kyle Korver, a pure shooter, and veterans Deron Williams and Richard Jefferson, who won’t wilt under the bright lights of the NBA finals.

The Warriors have their up tempo brand up basketball they play better than anyone else in the game. They have proven scorers in Durant, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Draymond Green can do a little bit of everything, but he must avoid getting suspended this time around.

His missing game five last year robbed the Warriors of all the momentum they had built up with a 3-1 start to the series and allowed the Cavaliers to sweep the last three games, two of which were on the Warriors home floor.

The Warriors also have a deep bench with experienced players.

Perhaps the early key to the series will be the availability of Warriors center Zaza Pachulia, who missed the last part of the Spurs’ series with a heal injury.

Pachulia gives the Warriors some extra muscle they might need against James and company.

I expect the series to go the full seven games, with the Warriors pulling out a close win in a game seven that will go down to the wire.

Both teams had an easy path to the finals. The Cavaliers are 12-1 in the playoffs. The Warriors are 12-0. The Warriors will lose at least once this series, but they won’t lose three times.

An artist’s rendering of what the offices and practice facility for the Los Angeles Football Club will look like on the Cal State Los Angeles campus. The new soccer team is expected to debut in Major League Soccer next season.
(Courtesy photo)

MAKING A SPLASH: The Los Angeles Football Club won’t make its debut in Major League Soccer until next year, but the team is already serving notice that it doesn’t intend to play second fiddle to the Los Angeles Galaxy.

The team has a star-studded ownership group that includes women’s soccer legend Mia Hamm, her husband, Nomar Garciaparra, Magic Johnson, actor Will Farrell and film executive Peter Guber.

The team is building a new stadium to play in on the site of the former Los Angeles Sports Arena, right next door to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

And last week the organization announced a partnership with Cal State Los Angeles. The university campus will be the site of the teams training facility, soccer operations and youth academy.

The team also will provide internships to Cal State L.A. students.

The L.A. Football Club already has committed $1.6 million in support for Cal State LA, including funding a renovation of the university’s Track and Athletics Field in the Billie Jean King Sports Complex. The upgrades, scheduled to be completed in the fall, will include a new track, field and lighting system.

The new field will feature the latest FieldTurf synthetic fiber and is configured to meet the most stringent international soccer standards.

“Cal State L.A. is the first West Coast stadium to use this turf, which was recently installed at Gillette Stadium, home of the MLS New England Revolution and the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots,” Cal State L.A. Executive Vice President Jose A. Gomez said.

“Today we establish the perfect home for our team, one which affirms our commitment to building our future with the youth of Los Angeles,” Los Angeles Football Club President and Owner Tom Penn said. “We are proud that we will be developing world class players and talent for decades to come at Cal State LA.”

 

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