Prep Professional Sports

SPORTS DIGEST: Expectations are high as Dodgers begin 2018 season

The Los Angeles Dodgers won 104 games last season, the most the team has won in a season since coming to Los Angeles 60 years ago.

They won their fifth straight Western Division title and advanced to the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year, two other team records.

So when the Dodgers play the San Francisco Giants March 29 to open the 2018 season, they can be expected to win a sixth straight Western Division pennant, make the playoffs for a sixth straight time and, who knows, play in the World Series again.

When the Dodgers line up on the third base line before the season opener, 21 of the 25 players on the roster lined up on that base line for the World Series opener last October.

None of the Dodgers competition in the west improved in the off-season to catch the Dodgers this year. If the Dodgers can avoid major injuries and withstand the little injuries that every team deals with in a season, they should be playing next October.

The only person in the batting order who wasn’t here last year is Matt Kemp, who has returned to the Dodgers as the opening-day left fielder. For the time being, he is taking Justin Turner’s place on the roster.

Turner broke his wrist last week when he was hit by a pitch and will miss all of April most likely. The Dodgers will deal with who goes when Turner returns when that time comes.

In the meantime, their offense will feature the last two National League Rookies of the Year, Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger, at shortstop and first base, respectively. The outfield will be manned by Kemp, leadoff hitter Chris Taylor in center and right fielder Yasiel Puig, who realized last year all he needs to do is play and let his natural talent shine through.

The rest of the infield has Logan Forsythe, Kiki Hernandez and Chase Utley sharing second and third until Turner gets back, with Austin Roberts and Kyle Farmer playing some second and third when they aren’t catching.

Yasmani Grandal hopes to bounce back from a major slump the second half of last season to regain the regular catching job.

Of the 12 players who had the most at bats for the Dodgers last season, the only one who is not on this season’s roster is Adrian Gonzalez, who is now with the Mets.

The pitching staff has a few more new faces, but the most important pieces are all back. Clayton Kershaw remains the best pitcher in baseball and will start on opening day for the eighth year in a row. The starting rotation is set behind him with Alex Wood, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu all back.

Closer Kenley Jansen is as dominant out of the bullpen as Kershaw is as a starter and most of the bullpen returns. Fans may not be happy that Josh Fields and Pedro Baez are two of the returning players, but those two pitchers both had earned run averages under 3 last season and Fields was 5-0 out of the bullpen.

Tony Cingrani, who came over from Cincinnati last July, and Scott Alexander are the two lefthanders and manager Dave Roberts will mix and match his eight-man bullpen until he finds the right mix, just like he has done the last two seasons.

The Dodgers open the season against the hated Giants who lost two of their top three starting pitchers in the last two weeks of spring training. The Giants have no idea when Madison Bumgarner or Jeff Samardzija will return, which means by the time they do the Giants will be buried in the division.

The Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres don’t seem to have enough to threaten the Dodgers in the west so it looks like another October meeting with the Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs are part of the Dodgers’ future.

And if enough of the breaks that occur over a six-month, 162-game schedule fall their way, the Dodgers could find themselves in the World Series again in October.

Its only been 30 years since the Dodgers won one of those.

CLIPPERS TIME: With seven games left on their schedule, the Clippers need to win every game and hope they get help to capture the eighth playoff spot in the NBA’s Western Conference.

With the injuries and disruptive trades he has had to deal with this season, head coach Doc Rivers has done a great job to get the Clippers this far. And the eighth-seed in the West most likely will get the Clippers the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs, so there isn’t much hope for an extended playoff run for the team this year.

It will be interesting to see what direction the Clippers take in the off-season. Having a healthy Danilo Gallinari next year is essential if the Clippers are going to be serious contenders.

Gallinari is a talented 6-10 forward who can shoot like a small forward and play inside as well, but he has been healthy for only 19 games this season, not what the Clippers were expecting when they signed him last summer.

The Clippers also must decide if DeAndre Jordan is going to lead them to the promised land or would be more valuable as a trade chip. Jordan is never going to be dominant scorer, but he remains one of the top big men in the league.

Still, the best Clipper night in and night out has been Lou Williams, the talented sixth man. Williams is a natural scorer and those players are extremely valuable.

Despite a better record than the Lakers, the Clippers have a more uncertain future than the team they share Staples Center with.

Freshman point guard Christian Johnson (2) led View Park High to the boys state championship in Division IV March 23 in Sacramento. View Park defeated Stuart Hall, 74-62, with Johnson scoring 22 points, 18 in the first half. (Photo by Nick Koza)

CONGRATULATIONS: Three area basketball teams won state championships last weekend in Sacramento. View Park won the boys Division IV title March 23, 74-62 over the Stuart Hall Knights.

The next day saw the Serra Lady Cavaliers win the girls Division I title, 70-54 over Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep and Windward win the open division girls championship with a 58-47 win over Pinewood.

Christian Johnson, a freshman point guard, led View Park with 22 points, 18 in the first half.

View Park was an at-large team that finished 23-12 on the season.

Charisma Osborne (20) led the Windward High School girls basketball team to the open division state championship with a 58-47 victory over Pinewood March 24 in Sacramento. (Photo by Nick Koza)