College Professional Sports

SPORTS DIGEST: Dodgers begin playoff run against Washington Nationals

Will this be the first time in 28 years that the Los Angeles Dodgers advance to the World Series? Or will this be another frustrating year for Dodgers fans who have seen their team win four straight National League Western Division titles, only to see their World Series hopes flicker out early?

The Dodgers open play in the National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals Oct. 7 at 2:30 p.m. in Washington.

The Dodgers lost to the Mets three games to two in the Division Series last year with home field advantage. In game five at Dodger Stadium the Dodgers jumped off to a 2-1 lead after one inning and never scored again, stranding eight base runners and going 2 for 13 with runners in scoring position.

This year, the Dodgers have a good chance of advancing to the National League Championship Series, only because they are healthier than the Nationals.

It is ironic that a team that used the disabled list for 28 different players is healthier than its opponent starting the playoffs, but the Nationals are missing right-handed pitcher Steven Strasburg and starting catcher Wilson Ramos and have a couple of other regulars playing with nagging injuries.

The Dodgers surprised some with their 25-man roster for the series. Outfielder Andre Ethier, out most of the season with a broken leg, made the roster, as did third-string catcher Austin Barnes.

Ethier made the team over Kike Hernandez, who can play both infield and outfield. Hernandez has failed to hit at all this year, and manager Dave Roberts likes Ethier’s veteran presence coming to bat in late innings as a pinch hitter. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a clutch hit or two from Ethier in the series.

Barnes made the team partially to make up for the loss of Hernandez. Besides catcher, he can fill in at second or third base.

The Dodgers chose to go with only 11 pitchers in the short series, making room for Barnes.

The Dodgers first three starters will be Clayton Kershaw in game one, Rich Hill in game two and Kenta Maeda in game three.

The Nationals start Max Scherzer against Kershaw in the opener, but haven’t said who will start game two yet. It could be lefthander Gio Gonzalez, since the Dodgers have trouble hitting lefties. Taylor Roark will probably start in game three.

Despite their troubles against lefthanders, the Dodgers actually have a solid offense. Four players — shortstop Corey Seager, catcher Yasmani Grandal, third baseman Justin Turner and center fielder Joc Pederson — hit 20 or more home runs. Adrian Gonzalez, who tied with Turner for the most runs batted in with 90, hit 18 homers.

The starting rotation was shaky all season after Kershaw and Maeda, but Hill, if he can stay away from blisters on his throwing hand, has been capable since coming over in a trade from Oakland at the end of July.

The key to the series could be the bullpens for both teams. It could be argued that the Dodgers bullpen was the strength of the team, at least the way first-year manager Dave Roberts managed it. Earlier in the season, the team struggled with getting to closer Kenley Jansen, mostly because Dodgers starters (other than Kershaw) had trouble going longer than five or six innings.

But Roberts managed to build a bridge with former starter Joe Blanton and hard-throwing Pedro Baez with a little bit of lefthander Grant Dayton thrown in. Youngsters Ross Stripling and Julio Urias, who both were starters most of the season, can help in the bullpen during the playoffs, although Urias may start game four.

The Nationals have outfielder Bryce Harper, the best player not named Mike Trout in the major leagues; Daniel Murphy, who single-handedly killed the Dodgers in the playoffs with the Mets last year; and former Dodger Jayson Worth on offense.

Closer Mark Melancon replaced Jonathan Papelbon at the trading deadline and is solid at holding down a lead in the ninth inning, but I’m going to pick the Dodgers to win the series in four games and advance to the National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs.

USC running back Justin Davis broke loose for 123 yards rushing, including a 37-yard scoring run in the Trojans’ 41-20 victory over Arizona State Oct. 1. It was Davis’ best game of the season. (Photo by Nick Koza)
USC running back Justin Davis broke loose for 123 yards rushing, including a 37-yard scoring run in the Trojans’ 41-20 victory over Arizona State Oct. 1. It was Davis’ best game of the season. (Photo by Nick Koza)

ARIZONA SWEEP: The state of Arizona didn’t fare too well against the city of Los Angeles in football last weekend.

The USC Trojans defeated Arizona State University, 41-20, in the Coliseum Oct. 1, the UCLA Bruins defeated the University of Arizona, 45-24, later that day in the Rose Bowl and the Los Angeles Rams defeated the Arizona Cardinals, 17-13, the next day in Glendale, Arizona.

Count the Rams win over the Cardinals as the toughest win of the three, because the Rams were on the road. Who would have thought the Rams would be 3-1 after four weeks without number one draft choice Jared Goff catching even a sniff of action.

Head coach Jeff Fisher has his team fighting hard. The defense is stingy, the offense has managed to find the end zone two weeks in a row and the special teams are playing well, particularly punter Johnny Hekker, who has landed 15 punts inside the 20-yard line while averaging 44 yards per kick.

Just think how good the Rams might be if they ever get running back Todd Gurley going. Through four games, Gurley has just 216 yards in four games and is averaging 2.6 yards a carry.

Case Keenum continues to do a solid job managing the offense, even if the Rams still have the worst offense in the league through four weeks.

The Rams play at home for only the second time this week, hosting the Buffalo Bills Oct. 9 at 1:15 p.m. in the Coliseum. For those watching at home, the game will be on Channel 2.

The Trojans and the Bruins both righted the ship over the Arizona schools. The Bruins are now 3-2 as they prepare to face Arizona State in Tempe, Arizona, Oct. 8 at 7:30 p.m. The Sun Devils were 4-0 before losing to USC and they are always tough at home. Still, the Bruins are 10-point favorites heading into play.

USC gets to face the surprising Colorado Buffaloes Oct. 8 at 1 p.m. at the Coliseum. The game is on the Pac 12 Network, if you can find it.

Colorado is coming off back-to-back wins against Oregon and Oregon State on its way to a 4-1 record. The one loss was to Michigan, which is the fourth-ranked team in the country right now.

This won’t be a walk in Exposition Park for the Trojans, who home to return to .500 against the Buffaloes.

Los Angeles Sparks forward Candace Parker, shown earlier in the season, scored 29 points Oct. 4 to lead the Sparks passed the Chicago Sky, 95-75, and advance to the WNBA Championship Series against the Minnesota Lynx. The series begins Oct. 9 in Minnesota. (Photo by Nick Koza)
Los Angeles Sparks forward Candace Parker, shown earlier in the season, scored 29 points Oct. 4 to lead the Sparks passed the Chicago Sky, 95-75, and advance to the WNBA Championship Series against the Minnesota Lynx. The series begins Oct. 9 in Minnesota. (Photo by Nick Koza)

SPARKS ADVANCE: The Los Angeles Sparks will play for the WNBA title for the first time since 2003 when the face the Minnesota Lynx in a best-of-five series that starts at noon Oct. 9 at Target Center in Minneapolis. Channel 7 will broadcast the game starting at noon.

Candace Parker led the Sparks to a 95-75 win over the Chicago Sky Oct. 4 to win the best-of-five semifinal series with 29 points. It will be Parker’s first appearance in the championship series. The Sparks have won back-to-back titles in 2001 and 2002.

Minnesota is the defending WNBA champion and has won three of the last five titles. So the Sparks have their hands full.

But, with Parker, league most valuable player Nneka Ogwumike and sixth-woman of the year Kristi Toliver, the Sparks provide a three-headed scoring machine that will give the Lynx trouble, as well.

Game two of the series will be Oct. 11 in Minneapolis before the series moves to Los Angeles for games three and four Oct. 14 and 16. If a game five is necessary, it will be played Oct. 20 in Minneapolis.