All Ball Sports: Dodgers self-made problems, same for Rams; Sea Hawks, Mustangs dragged down

Sea Hawk Nate Stiveson drags one-third of Peninsula’s defense with him for a short gain during last Friday’s homecoming game at Sea Hawk Stadium. Peninsula’s defense held Redondo to one touchdown and one field goal. Peninsula won 33-10. Photo by Ray Vidal

Ethan Maleman delivers, after breaking a tackle against Peninsula last Friday. The Sea Hawks meet Culver City this Friday. Photo by Ray Vidal

by Paul Teetor          

If the Dodgers want to blame someone for their mounting troubles, they need only look in the mirror.

The Dodgers finished the regular season Sunday afternoon with the second-best record in all of baseball this year.

With 106 wins, the Dodgers finished tied with the best record in the franchise’s history, a history that goes back more than 100 years and 3,000 miles to Brooklyn, New York

The Dodgers have won eight straight National League West Division titles and are the defending World Series champions.

Despite all that success, the Dodgers season could end Wednesday night after playing just one postseason game.

It sounds like the set-up to a Twilight Zone episode, but it’s not.

And they have no one to blame but themselves.

On September 18, just three weeks ago, the Dodgers had first place in the National League West all to themselves, after trailing the San Francisco Giants for 165 days – in other words, for most of the season.

All they had to do at that point was to keep winning games and they would win their ninth straight NL West title, and set themselves up for another World Series run.

And they did keep winning games, going a sizzling 44-13 after the All-Star break.

Problem was, the Giants won one more game than the Dodgers did in that same span.

In the end, it came down to the 162nd, and final regular season game for both of these ancient rivals.

The Dodgers had to win their Sunday afternoon game against the Milwaukee Brewers, which they did by an overwhelming score of 10-3.

Then they had to hope that the San Diego Padres – the team that was supposed to challenge LA this season, but choked their chance away during a mid-season swoon – would beat the Giants.

That would have caused the Dodgers and Giants to finish the season in a dead heat and have to play a 16rd game Monday afternoon to determine the division winner, with the loser headed to the wild-card game Wednesday afternoon. 

But the Giants rose to the occasion, battered the Padres 11-4, and grabbed the division title and the right to advance to the best-3-out-of-5 NL Division Series.

That was just the beginning of the bad news for the Dodgers.

During their win over the Brewers Sunday first baseman Max Muncy, the Dodgers leading slugger with 36 homers, injured his elbow so badly that Manager Dave Roberts said he won’t be able to play in the wild card game, and was doubtful for any games beyond that, should they win the wild-card game.

That’s the next piece of bad news for the Dodgers: their opponent in the wild-card game is the hottest team in baseball over the last month, the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards won 20 of their last 21 games and ripped off a 17-game winning streak in September, something that hadn’t been done in 65 years.

Furthermore, Roberts keeps insisting he intends to start Max Scherzer in the wild card game. Scherzer, who won his first seven starts after being traded here from Washington, suddenly went from a titan to a turkey, with two straight bad outings last week that cost the Dodgers precious wins they needed to overtake the Giants.

The Dodgers had three other aces who could take the mound against the Cards – Julio Urias, Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw – but that number was reduced to two Saturday after Kershaw injured his arm and was ruled out for the foreseeable future. Since he is a free agent this winter, he may well have pitched his last game in a Dodgers uniform. Not exactly the way he wanted to go out.

Still, that leaves Urias – with the best record in the majors at 20-3 – and Buehler, who has a 16-4 record this year and a proven history of coming up big in big games.

But no. As of Monday night Roberts said he is sticking with the 37-year-old Scherzer, a great pitcher with three Cy Young awards on his resume. At this stage of the season he looks like a guy who got off to a great start in LA thanks to the adrenaline produced by the trade, but now he looks like an old guy who has come back down to earth and is going to get shelled come Wednesday. You can just feel a disaster looming. And it could be the worst kind of disaster: self-inflicted.

So why are the Dodgers to blame for the terrible fix they are in?

Several reasons, but start with the most obvious: the 3-year, $102 million contract they handed to last season’s Cy Young Award winner, Trevor Bauer, last winter. Even before coming to LA, he had a well-earned rep as an online bully, a prima donna, a screwball and a bad teammate.

Didn’t matter. Dodgers General Manager Andrew Friedman and Roberts were determined to stockpile great pitchers – they already had three in Kershaw, Urias and Buehler – and they ignored all the warnings and red flags.

Up close, as an everyday presence, Bauer turned out to be far worse than his rep – a combination of the Marquis De Sade, Larry Flynt, Larry David and Charles Manson. Well maybe not Charles Manson, since he didn’t actually murder anybody. More like Marilyn Manson, who is also in legal trouble over his alleged habit of beating women. 

When one of Bauer’s female victims took her complaints to the police early last summer, Major League Baseball suspended him with pay and then kept extending the suspension until everyone involved – the Dodgers, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and Bauer’s lawyers – agreed it would be best for all parties if Bauer did not pitch for the rest of the season. And you can bet the ranch that he will never pitch for the Dodgers again, despite the two years remaining on his bloated contract.

The lawyers are going to make a lot of money arguing over the resolution of this mess.

The Bauer bummer had a ripple effect: despite his character flaws, he was a good pitcher off to a good start – 8-3 – before his private life went public.

His absence was a big reason the Dodgers fell behind the Giants after a great start with a record of 15-3. It was also the impetus behind trading two of the Dodgers’ top prospects for Scherzer, who was on an expiring contract and figures to command one last huge deal this off-season.

But now Scherzer looks shaky, Kershaw is out indefinitely and it’s too late to find another top-tier starter to bolster Urias and Buehler.

There’s another reason the Dodgers troubles are self-inflicted despite the team’s $260 million payroll, the highest in MLB and $100 million more than the Giants are spending.

Two years ago Cody Bellinger clubbed 47 homers and was named the NL Most Valuable Player for his rare combination of power, speed and elite fielding ability in the outfield.

During last season’s push for a World Series title, Bellinger hit a titanic home run that gave his team a crucial victory. He was so excited that after he tagged home plate and headed for the raucous dugout, he leaped in the air and gave a teammate a flying shoulder bump that looked more like a cross-body block at the line of scrimmage.

Unfortunately, the two players’ bodies met with such force that Bellinger separated his shoulder and has not been the same player since. Even with an entire winter to rehab the shoulder, he became the worst hitter among all MLB players with more than 200 at bats this season. Indeed, he became such an automatic out that Roberts was forced to move him to the bottom of the batting order and eventually to bench him for most of the games.

When one of your best players goes from a superstar to a scrub in one season, that is a major problem and one of the primary reasons the Dodgers were not able to capture their ninth straight NL West title.

The Dodgers head into the wild-card game Wednesday night with so many hurdles it will take a miracle for them to win it and advance to the Division Series.

And if they do manage to win the wild-card game, guess who they would have to play in the first round of the Division Series?

The Giants.  

And away we go!

Bi-Polar Rams create instant identity crisis

What a difference seven days make.

A week ago, the Rams looked like the early-season Super Bowl favorites as they knocked off the defending Super Bowl champs and Tom Brady 34-24. 

Sunday afternoon, in front of a party-hardy full house crowd of 70,000-plus at a rockin’ SoFi Stadium that was happily anticipating another blowout, the Rams fell flat on their faces in a 37-20 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. That dropped their record to 3-1. It was so one-sided that the dispirited crowd started filing out when the score reached 37-13 early in the fourth quarter.

In the process the Cardinals became the last unbeaten team in the NFL and grabbed first place in the NFC West away from the Rams.

The unfortunate part of this unexpected loss was twofold.

First, it exposed Rams’ problems that had been covered over by wins over two teams that it is now clear, are pretty bad – the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears. Realistically, the only quality win the Rams have had was over a Bucs team that flew 3,000 miles to get here and looked jet-lagged, and off their game as soon as they got on the field.

Second, it gave the rest of the league a formula to beat the Rams, who up until Sunday, looked unbeatable.

That formula starts with stopping Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, the engine that had powered the Rams bandwagon. Going from the bumbling, hapless Jared Goff last year to the sleek, slick Stafford this year was like trading in your ’87 Gran Torino for a Tesla Model S.

Stafford won his first three games in a Rams uniform and looked like an All-World player doing it. Play action passes, deep bombs, mid-range move-the-chains passes – Stafford was doing it all.

But during his 12 years in Detroit, even as he impressed everyone with his arm talent and gritty toughness, Stafford also showed that he can be a really streaky passer. He can get sizzling hot tossing the ball all around the park while finding guys who don’t look open for spectacular completions. But he can also get colder than a Big Gulp iced tea with extra ice, and start missing guys long, short and mid-range.

Sunday was one of those Big Gulp games, He went 26-for-41 for 280 yards, with one TD and one early interception that set the tone for the rest of the game. Certainly not terrible numbers, but not the kind you expect out of Stafford.

The second part of the beat-the-Rams formula is to have a mobile quarterback who can throw pin-point passes on the run when he is chased out of the pocket. The Cardinals just happen to have Kyler Murray, the prototype for that kind of quarterback.

Standing 5-foot-10 in cleats, the former number one overall pick in the draft three years ago has come of age this year. He was absolutely dazzling Sunday afternoon, completing 24 of 32 passes for 268 yards with two TDs and no interceptions. Equally important, he carried the ball six times for 39 yards. Not one of those carries was a called play. They were improvised by Murray, who looked like a motorcycle weaving in and out of traffic on the 405.

There was a generational divide on display in SoFi Sunday afternoon. Murray is the best example of a modern quarterback: a guy so strong he can throw bombs from the pocket and so mobile that he can throw darts on the run, and shred a good defense like the Ram’s. As good as Stafford is – clearly a top 10 guy – he is primarily a pocket passer who will only run when he has to, and is not a threat to go all the way.

The Cardinals game plan was clearly designed to stop star defensive lineman Aaron Donald from taking over games, like he did last week, with his sheer physical presence and unstoppable motor. Several times Sunday Donald appeared to have Murray in his sights for a sack, only to watch helplessly as Murray found a way to go around him and find an open receiver. 

Another problem, a rare flaw in a Coach Sean McVay game plan, was that the Rams and Stafford were targeting wide receiver Cooper Kupp too much. Kupp came into the game leading the league in receptions, and it was obvious the Cardinals had watched enough game film to decide that their defensive game plan was double-cover Kupp and force Stafford to look elsewhere for open receivers.,

Neither McVay nor Stafford made the necessary adjustments, and the result was a blow-out.

The Rams’ only consolation: they won’t have the normal full week to sulk over this loss.

That’s the good news. 

The bad news: they play the Seattle Seahawks Thursday night in Seattle. Their quarterback, 5-foot-11 Russell Wilson, had been the top example of the modern mobile quarterback until Murray took over the top spot this week.

That formula for beating the Rams? Wilson is exactly the guy to do it unless the Rams can snap out of the over-confident funk they were in Sunday afternoon.         

 

Mira Costa, Redondo football both fall

A rough season so far for the beach city high school football teams got even rougher Friday night, when Mira Costa suffered yet another excruciatingly close loss to fall to 2-4, and Redondo got back in the losing column for an overall record of 1-5.

If it wasn’t for bad luck, Mira Costa wouldn’t have any luck at all. Despite the Mustang’s 2-4 record, they have outscored their opponents by 40 points – 182-142. The problem has been a couple of one-point losses and a 3-point loss last week to heavily favored Loyola.

On Friday night, for the second week in a row, the Mustangs were mounting a last-second comeback against a higher ranked team – defending Bay League champ Culver City — only to run out of time with the tying or possibly winning score in sight. 

All season long, Costa has been led by senior quarterback Casey Pavlick, but this time Pavlick stumbled out the gate. On the Mustang’s first possession he was trying to avoid being sacked when he threw an interception. On its next two possessions Costa failed to make a first down and the first quarter ended with no score by either side.

The scoreless duel ended in the second quarter and Culver City went into halftime with a 10-6 lead.

The Mustangs pulled within 10-9 in the third quarter on a Pavlick TD throw, but Culver City scored a TD to pull ahead 16-9.

With a little more than a minute left, Costa mounted a desperate comeback attempt that nearly succeeded. With seven seconds left and the game clock ticking down to zero, Pavlick tried to throw into the end zone but the ball was picked off, and Culver City walked off with a 16-9 win that just as easily could have gone the other way.

Meanwhile Redondo, fresh off its first win of the season after opening the year with four straight losses, couldn’t handle prosperity and fell to Peninsula by a score of 33-10.

Mira Costa will host Palos Verdes Friday night while Redondo will host Culver City.

Contact: teetor.paul@gmail.com

Follow @paulteetor  ER

 

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