Dodgers eager to defend World Series title in full season

Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler throwing
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
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LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Dodgers finally have something besides eight straight NL West titles to brag about. They head into this season’s full 162-game schedule as defending World Series champions, having ended a 32-year drought during the pandemic.

With the addition of right-hander Trevor Bauer, they’ve also got baseball’s best rotation that boasts three Cy Young Award winners. It’s also the biggest intrigue involving the team. Bauer, Walker Buehler and veteran Clayton Kershaw are locks to start.

David Price will make his Dodgers debut after opting out last season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it could come out of the bullpen. The former AL Cy Young Award winner has told the team he’s open to whatever role they need him in, and he could provide valuable left-handed relief.

If Price comes out of the `pen, Tony Gonsolin could be a starter, as well as Julio Urias, who has made a strong case to become a full-time starter with his spring performance.

Once again, the Dodgers boast tremendous depth and figure to platoon at various positions.

NEW LOOK

Bauer’s 1.73 ERA led the NL last season and he won the NL Cy Young with Cincinnati. After signing a $102 million, three-year deal in February, he’s already turned heads by pitching with one of his eyes closed in spring training. The Dodgers lost Joc Pederson and Kike Hernandez in free agency. Pederson’s time in the outfield will go to Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger and AJ Pollock, and there are others who can fill in whenever needed. Hernandez’s presence on offense and defense, as well as his high spirits in the clubhouse, will be missed. But Zach McKinstry has had a strong spring and the utilityman can play second base, shortstop and center field. Former top prospect Gavin Lux figures to be a regular at second base and he gives the team a left-handed option in the lineup. Once again, Chris Taylor‘s versatility will have him all over the field, but he’ll also get time at second base.

OL’ RELIABLE

The Dodgers could give any number of aces on their staff the ball on opening day. But manager Dave Roberts chose three-time NL Cy Young Award winner Kershaw, who is set to start his franchise-record ninth opening day on April 1 at Colorado. Buehler and Bauer were under consideration, too. Kershaw is heading into the final year of his current contract. The left-hander is 11-5 with a 4.44 ERA when pitching at Coors Field.

ROOKIES TO WATCH

C Keibert Ruiz and RHP Josiah Gray are considered the top two prospects in the organization, but neither made the major-league roster out of spring training. Ruiz is behind Will Smith and Austin Barnes on the depth chart. He missed most of camp because of a visa issue, but will be a reliable option in the minors. Gray will start the season at the alternate training site and figures to be part of the Dodgers’ Triple-A rotation. He’s likely to be called upon to provide depth to the team’s powerhouse rotation during the season. Roberts is impressed with both players. 2B Michael Busch and 3B Kody Hoese were both first-round picks in 2019 and could contribute this season.

BELLI ON WAY BACK

Bellinger had arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder during the offseason and he spent spring training working his way back. He’ll have had just two weeks of games to get ready for the season, but the team expects the 2019 NL MVP to be starting in center field on opening day. If for some reason he can’t go, DJ Peters has had a solid spring at the plate and in the field.

HOME OPENER

After a weeklong road trip to start the season, the Dodgers open at home on April 9 against Washington. They’ll receive their World Series rings that night and celebrate winning the franchise’s first championship since 1988. They won the World Series in Texas last fall with limited fans on hand. They expect to have their own fans back in the stands for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic took hold a year ago. Los Angeles County has eased restrictions on outdoor attendance, which means 25% capacity – about 11,000 fans – could be allowed.

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.