Three and a half months after losing game seven of the 2017 World Series to the Houston Astros, the Los Angeles Dodgers gathered in Glendale, Arizona, this week ready to try again.
Most of the players who were with the team last season are back as the Dodgers seek their first world championship in 30 years this season.
Those missing are first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who was traded to the Braves in the off-season and is now with the Mets; pitcher Brandon McCarthy, who was sent to the Braves with Gonzalez; bullpen set-up man Brandon Morrow and starting pitcher Yu Darvish, who both signed free-agent deals in the off-season with the Chicago Cubs; and Andre Ethier, a free agent who hasn’t signed a contract with any team yet.
The biggest name of the Dodgers’ new players is a familiar name as well to both fans and players. Matt Kemp is back in Dodger Blue, four years after the Dodgers shipped him to San Diego.
Kemp returned in the deal with the Braves for Gonzales and McCarthy (and Scott Kazmir) in what was a major salary dump for the Dodgers.
The original idea for the Dodgers front office was to unload Kemp somewhere else but the off-season market wasn’t strong on aging outfielders earning $21 million a season whose productivity has declined in recent years.
So Kemp reported to camp 40 pounds lighter than he was last season and is trying to win the left field job in spring training.
Since J.D. Martinez spurned the Arizona Diamondbacks and signed with the Boston red Sox earlier this week, the Dodgers are strong favorites to win the National League West again this year and advance to the National League playoffs again where they will probably face Morrow, Darvish and the rest of the Cubs.
If that happens, the Dodgers will hope Darvish is still tipping his pitches the way he was in the seventh game of the World Series, when the Astros lit him up for five runs in less than two innings in a 5-1 win.
The Dodgers’ front office would have liked to resign Darvish this season. Dodger fans had different ideas and it’s probably just as well that Darvish is gone.
The Dodgers start 2018 with a projected starting rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Alex Wood, Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Kershaw remains the best pitcher on the planet after going 18-4 last year.
Hill has won 12 games in each of the last two years and is a steady number two starter.
Wood had a career year last season, going 16-3, and at 27 he should only get better.
After winning 16 games as a rookie in 2016, Maeda fell off to 13 wins last year, but he pitched well out of the bullpen in the playoffs and the Dodgers are counting on him to regain his rookie form.
Ryu is the big question mark. After missing all of 2015 and most of 2016 with arm miseries, Ryu was up-and-down last season, going 5-9 in 24 starts.
This is the last year of his contract with the Dodgers, who would like to see pitch like he did his first two years with the team, when he won 28 games combined in 2013 and 2014.
If he falters, rookie Walker Buehler, the team’s top draft pick in 2015 should be ready to step into the rotation. If he isn’t, Ross Stripling or Brock Stewart, who have been adequate fill-in starters the last two seasons, will handle the load.
In the bullpen, the Dodgers still have Kenley Jansen to close things out and Dave Roberts has proven adept at managing the bullpen to get the ball to Jansen with a lead as often as possible.
Morrow may be hard to replace, but that’s what we thought about Joe Blanton this time last year. Blanton couldn’t duplicate his 2016 success last season with Washington and Morrow was more than adequate in replacing him.
Yumi Garcia is back after missing all of 2017 and he may be able to handle Morrow’s role. Who knows, this might even be the year that Pedro Baez grows up, although the thought of him pitching in the eighth innings scares most Dodgers’ fans.
The offense returns almost intact from last year.
The last two National League rookies of the year, shortstop Corey Seager and first baseman Cody Bellinger, will be the key run producers, but third baseman Justin Turner, utility man Chris Taylor showed they could be clutch performers and Yasiel Puig finally started to grow up last year.
There is a logjam in the outfield with Puig, Taylor, Kemp, Joc Pederson, Trayce Thompson and Andrew Toles competing for playing time.
The exhibition season starts Feb. 23 and opening day is early this year, March 29 against the Giants.
The Dodgers — and their fans — are ready to see what happens.
J.C. PLAYOFFS: The East Los Angeles College men’s basketball team received the fourth seed in the State Southern California playoffs. ELAC, which is 24-5, received an automatic first round bye and will play the winner of the Feb. 21 game between Santiago Canyon (19-9) and Canyons (14-13) at 7 p.m. Feb. 24 at home.
The Huskies enter the playoffs after having won their third consecutive South Coast Conference North Division title and their fourth in five years. They were also ranked fifth in the state in the final Massey Ratings.
ELAC closed out regular season play with an 86-45 victory over Chaffey to finish SCC play 9-1.
Guards Roderick Williams and Frank Bertz scored 20 points each to lead the Huskies over a Chaffey team that finished the season 18-10. Williams also had 10 rebounds and two steals, while Bertz hit six of eight three pointers and had three rebounds and two steals.
Forward Solomon Hunt scored 10 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Guards Robert Fuller and Darius Henderson contributed eight points each and guard Jamier Cross added seven points.
The Cerritos College men’s team hosts Riverside City College at 7 p.m. Feb. 23.
West Los Angeles College had a play-in game against San Diego Miramar Feb. 21. The winner plays third-seed Citrus College Feb. 24.
The ELAC women’s team is the 10th seed in the State Southern California playoffs and ELAC plays sixth-seed Irvine Valley College in Round 2 at 7 p.m. Feb. 23 at Irvine in an interesting matchup of two state top 20 teams.
The 18th ranked Huskies are 18-10 and No. 11 Irvine Valley is 24-4. Both teams have been ranked in the Top-20 State Poll all season and each received a first-round bye.
On paper, the teams are dead even except for their records. ELAC, however, has played a much tougher schedule. Against common opponents both teams went 5-2.
ELAC averages 76.0 points per game, Irvine 76.3. ELAC averages 47.2 rebounds per game, Irvine 47.4. ELAC shoots 42.2 percent, Irvine 42.9.
ELAC forward Monica Garcia averages 18.3 points per game, 21st best in the state, and Irvine sophomore forward Kasey Smit averages 18.7, 20th best. Forward Dominique Godbolt averages 13.4 rebounds per game, fifth best in the state. Smit averages 13.1, sixth best.
Irvine Valley tied for the Orange Empire Conference title with Cypress College (21-7).
ELAC finished third in the South Coast Conference North Division, the only conference in Southern California to have four teams qualify for State.
Cerritos College had a first-round game Feb. 21 against Antelope Valley. The winner advanced to play top-seed Palomar Feb. 24.
West Los Angeles College has a second-round game Feb. 23 at El Camino College. Los Angeles Trade Tech hosts Long Beach City College Feb. 24 in the second round.
Mario Villegas contributed to this story.