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Dodgers go after seventh straight division title


The Dodgers will win their seventh consecutive National League Western Division championship this year. How’s that for going out on a limb with a preseason prognostication?

San Diego is improved with the free agent signing of Manny Machado and the Colorado Rockies extended the Dodgers to 163 games last year before they won the division, but the Dodgers have more pitching than either team and that will win out over the upcoming 162-game season that opens March 28 against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

It wasn’t that long ago that the Diamondbacks were the Dodgers closest division rival, but Arizona traded their top player, first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, to the St. Louis Cardinals in the offseason and lost center fielder A.J. Pollock and pitcher Pat Corbin to free agency.

Any hopes for a strong 2019 season were shattered March 26 when right fielder Steve Souza Sr. blew out his knee in a freak play at home plate when his plastic spikes slipped on home plate. 

The Giants are in rebuild mode, the price you pay for winning three World Series in five years, as they did earlier this decade.

The Dodgers that open the 2019 season are not the same team that lost to the Boston Red Sox in five games at the end of last October.

Outfielders Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig are gone. So is second baseman Chase Utley and catcher Yasmani Grandal. Starting pitcher Alex Wood is gone, too, and the Dodgers still have a deep rotation.

The Dodgers rotation is so deep that Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill are starting the season on the 15-day injured list and manager Dave Roberts and team President Andrew Friedman don’t seem very concerned about it.

That’s because Julio Urias, who the Dodgers have been counting on to develop into a staff ace for four years, finally seems to be on the verge of greatness after an outstanding spring in which he gave up only three earned runs and walked three in 15 innings, while striking out 15.

He faced 12 Angels in his final spring start March 26 and retired all 12.

And Urias is only the fifth starter. 

Hyun-Jin Ryu will open for the Dodgers against the Diamondbacks, followed by Kenta Maeda, Ross Stripling and Walker Buehler, another contender for top of the rotation should Kershaw’s shoulder continue to bother him.

Russell Martin, who started his career with the Dodgers in 2006, returns after an eight-year absence to share the catching duties with Austin Barnes, who is trying to prove that his 2017 statistics are more typical of him than his 2018 stats.

Matt Muncy, the most pleasant surprise of the 2018 season, has moved Cody Bellinger to right field, and will be at first base most of the time, unless he proves he can’t hit left-handed pitching, in which we will see David Freese.

After four years of being a super sub who could play anywhere, Kike Hernandez seems to have won the second-base job. Corey Seager is back healthy after an injury-ruined 2018 season and Justin Turner is at third base.

Manager Dave Roberts was platoon crazy in the second half of last season, but only plans to platoon in left field this season, where Joc Pederson and Chris Taylor will share time.

Pollock came over from Arizona as a free agent and will play center field most of the time with Bellinger in right field.

The Dodgers strengthened their bullpen during free agency by signing Joe Kelly, who they couldn’t hit coming out of Boston’s bullpen in the World Series last October.

If Kelly proves to be a dependable bridge to get to closer Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers will probably be in the World Series for a third straight year next October.

Pedro Baez seems to have finally matured as a dependable reliever and Scott Alexander, Dylan Floro, Caleb Ferguson and Yimi Garcia are back as well.

Tony Cingrani will open the season on the injured list with Kershaw and Hill.  

The Dodgers have a new third base coach this year. Dino Ebel, who was Mike Scioscia’s bench coach for the Angels last year moves up the freeway from Anaheim to replace Chris Woodward, who is now managing the Texas Rangers.

It was great television March 25 when Ebel was miked up and engaged in an inning-long conversation with Dodgers broadcasters Joe Davis and Orel Hershiser during the game.

A baseball season is a long grind with many peaks and valleys. The Dodgers look primed to win the West again and also have to be considered among the National League teams to go to the World Series.

The Rams and Chargers both had satisfying seasons in football. Same with the Clippers in basketball, although the Lakers can’t say the same.

Chances are, come October, the Dodgers will still be playing.

BEST OF 2018: The Los Angeles Sports Council handed out the 2018 L.A. Sports Awards March 25, with the Nov. 19 game between the Rams and Kansas City Chiefs being chosen the No. 1 sports moment of the year. 

The Rams won the Monday night game played in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, 54-51. The game was supposed to be played in Mexico City, but the stadium field was torn up by recent concerts and soccer games and the game was relocated on a week’s notice to the Coliseum.

It was a battle of two 9-1 teams who went back and forth all night. It was the first time both teams in an NFL game scored more than 50 points. Rams quarterback Jared Goff threw for 413 yards and four touchdowns. Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw six touchdowns, but was intercepted three times, twice in the late minutes of the game when Kansas City was trying to come back. 

I thought LeBron James signing with the Lakers last July would top the list of the top 10 Los Angeles sports moments of 2018, but that only came in fourth in the Sports Council’s list, which is chosen by online fan voting and a 10-member news media panel.

The second-best sports moment of the year was Dodgers first baseman Max Muncy’s 18-inning home run in the third game of the World Series, that gave the Dodgers their only World Series win last October.

Third on the list was Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s debut season with the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer, a bit of a reach.

LeBron’s signing was fourth, followed by Shohei Ohtani of the Angels being named American League Rookie of the Year, the Chargers finishing tied for the AFC’s best record and earning a playoff berth, LAFC’s remarkable first season in Major League Soccer, Vladimir Guerrero being inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame as an Angel, Chloe Kim winning Olympic Gold in the halfpipe in the Winter Olympics at Pyeongchang and Mike Scioscia retiring as Angels manager after 19 seasons.

In other award presentations, Philip Rivers of the Chargers and Aaron Donald of the Rams were honored as 2018 Co-Sportsman of the Year and Olympic snowboarding gold medalist Kim was selected Sportswoman of the Year. Chargers head coach Anthony Lynnwas the Coach of the Year award recipient and LAFC President Tom Penn was named the top Sports Executive. 

By Don Wanlass

Staff Writer