College Professional Sports

SPORTS DIGEST: Win or lose, Dodgers have had a great season

No matter what happens to the Los Angeles Dodgers in game five of the National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals (this is being written several hours before the game), 2019 was a great season.

The Dodgers won a franchise record 106 games. They set a franchise record for most home runs in a season with 279. They led the National League West every day of the season except for six.

Along the way, Cody Bellinger became a most valuable player candidate, Max Muncy continued his development into a power-hitting star who can play three positions in the infield, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Walker Buehler both developed into front-of-the-rotation pitchers and the old warhorse Clayton Kershaw still led the staff in victories.

But if the Dodgers lose game five to the Nationals, you can expect the mood of Dodgers’ fans to be sullen and angry, and the vitriol will be flying on Twitter, Facebook and whatever other social media sites Dodger fans go to when they want to vent their spleen.

Such is the nature of sports and sports fans.

The Buffalo Bills went to four straight Super Bowls from 1991 to 1994, an unprecedented feat that may never happen again. But the Bills lost all four and that’s what they are remembered for.

The Atlanta Braves won 14 consecutive division titles from 1991 to 2005, another unprecedented achievement. But the Braves won only one World Series during those 14 years, diminishing the achievement.

The Dodgers have won seven straight National League West division titles and made the post-season for seven straight years as well. Those, also, are franchise records, but they are not enough for a fan base that only knows the Dodgers haven’t won a World Series since 1988.

That’s all that matters to the average Dodger fan.

With a division title that was secure in July (if not sooner), the only thing Dodgers fans have had to do for three months is worry about Kershaw’s home runs or Kanley Jansen’s blown saves.

And that’s too bad, because the myopic fans who have turned on Kershaw and Kenley Jansen this year because both are starting to show signs of aging have missed out on a lot to be celebrated this year.

Let’s start with Kershaw. After a 9-5 record last year, Kershaw, at 31, bounced back with a 16-5 record, the fourth best winning percentage in his celebrated career. All but two of his starts went six innings or more.

He doesn’t throw 94 or 95 miles an hour anymore and his curve doesn’t dip from 12 to 6 on a clock like it used to, but only seven pitchers in the major leagues won more games than he did this season. In other words, he is still one of the top pitchers in the game.

Jansen is another player the fans have villified all year. Granted, he has blown more saves this year than he ever has before and closers are judged by their saves and blown saves.

Jansen has blown nine saves this year. He saved 33. That’s a save percentage of 78%. Not great, perhaps, but — like Kershaw — Jansen still ranks with the best closers in the game.

He’s third on the active list with 301 career saves and is one of only five players who have recorded 300 or more saves with one team.

Like Kershaw, Jansen deserves better from the fans.

So does manager Dave Roberts.

All he has done in his four years as manager is win division titles. He averages 98 wins a season. He stays on an even keel, trying to keep 25 competitive athletes pulling in the same direction over a long season.

Yet, there will be some fans calling for his head if the Dodgers lose anytime between now and the last game of the World Series.

Baseball is an unforgiving game. If a hitter gets three hits in 10 at bats he is considered a star. In no other sport is a 30% success rate considered good.

If LeBron James only made 30 % of his shots or Aaron Rodgers only completed 30% of his passes they would have been benched long ago.

Like other Dodger fans, I will be extremely disappointed if the Dodgers don’t make it back to the World Series this year.

The team is too good not to make it to the World Series. But baseball is a funny game and anything can happen in a five-game series.

The Washington Nationals have two great starting pitchers in Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer. Sometimes that’s enough to win a short series.

But a loss in game 5 to Washington would not erase all the good things that happened to the Dodgers this year.

The development of rookies like Alex Verdugo, Will Smith and Gavin Lux.

The growth in Walker Buehler, Cody Bellinger, Julio Urias and other young players who will become the cornerstones of the Dodgers in the next decade.

The return from injury by Corey Seager.

There are a lot of things to celebrate about the 2019 Dodgers. Here’s hoping that includes nine more victories.

ON THE OTHER HAND: A month ago, when the NFL season was starting, there was some talk about the Chargers and Rams both playing in the Super Bowl.

And then the games started.

Five weeks into the season and both teams are in third place in their division and trying to get things sorted out.

The Rams started fast, winning their first three games even if they weren’t the scoring juggernaut they were last season.

Then, their defense fell apart against Tampa Bay and last week they lost a close game to an excellent Seattle team when the usually dependable Greg Zuerlein missed a late field goal.

The Rams can get back on track this week with a win over the surprisingly undefeated San Francisco 49ers Oct. 13 at the Coliseum. No one expected the 49ers to be 4-0 at this point of the season and the Rams can’t afford to fall three games back of the division leaders six games into the season.

The Super Bowl hangover that often affects the Super Bowl loser the following season might take over if the Rams drop another game this week.

It’s hard to pinpoint what is wrong with the Chargers. They have had a lot of injuries. They finally got running back Melvin Gordon to report, but he won’t be in game shape for another week or two.

The Chargers also might be suffering from playing what must seem to the players like a 16-game road schedule.

Dignity Health Park is a nice, cozy soccer stadium that offers intimacy you can’t find anywhere else in the NFL. But three years into their tenancy at the Carson stadium and the Chargers still haven’t developed a fan base.

The Chargers lost to the lowly 0-4 Broncos Oct. 6 and there were more Bronco fans in the stadium than Charger fans.

I can’t imagine what Chargers games are going to look like next year in the new stadium in Inglewood.

This week, the Chargers host the Pittsburgh Steelers on the Sunday night game of the week. Expect to see more black and gold than blue and gold in the stands.

FATE’S CRUEL HAND: The coaching fate of USC’s Clay Helton could be on the line Oct. 12 in South Bend, Indiana, when the Trojans play Notre Dame.

I’m not saying that Helton will be fired if the Trojans lose. Either way, he will probably last the season, since USC has a new president and is still without an athletic director.

But if the Trojans lose, more fans will want Helton gone. A surprising win against a ranked team like Notre Dame could take some of the heat of Helton, but it also will take a convincing run toward the Pac 12 South title to totally save Helton’s bacon.