Dodgers aim to dunk Diamondbacks, clinch NL West title

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

Clayton Kershaw doesn’t plan to visit the swimming pool at Chase Field if the Los Angeles Dodgers clinch the National League West on Tuesday night.

The veteran left-hander, who will start against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix, looked back at the famous pool takeover in 2013 with Los Angeles currently the verge of securing its ninth division title in 10 seasons.

The Dodgers created quite a ruckus when they stormed the pool beyond the fence in right-center after clinching the ’13 division crown. Players jumped or dove in, some doing cannonballs, and splashed water and had a grand time celebrating in the Diamondbacks’ pool.

When the Dodgers notched the deciding victory in the NL Division Series over Arizona in 2017, there were mounted police on the warning track to prevent another invasion of the pool.

“Are we jumping in the pool? Probably not if it’s going to cause that much trouble,” Kershaw told the Orange County Register. “Unless they tell us not to do it. If we’re not going to jump in the pool, I don’t care. It’s just funny to me that they care so much.”

The magic number to clinch the division is one for the Dodgers (97-43) entering the Tuesday game.

“It’s always exciting and we never take it for granted,” Los Angeles center fielder Cody Bellinger said on Monday after the Dodgers beat the Diamondbacks 6-0. “There’s a lot of hard work and dedication put into that, so if we win, we’re going to enjoy it.”

Bellinger had a key two-run double as Los Angeles officially clinched a postseason berth with the Monday win in the opener of the three-game series. It marked the second straight day the Dodgers left the field thinking they had punched their ticket.

However, instead of clinching with an 11-2 win over the San Diego Padres on Sunday, the Dodgers needed one more win as Major League Baseball acknowledged Monday that it overlooked a three-way tiebreaker scenario that would have left Los Angeles on the outside of the playoff picture.

Kershaw, the last remaining Dodger from the 2013 squad, will be matched up against Arizona right-hander Merrill Kelly (12-5, 2.94 ERA) when Los Angeles attempts to improve to 11-2 this season against the Diamondbacks (66-74).

Kershaw (7-3, 2.62 ERA) will be making his third start since returning from lower-back issues. The 34-year-old veteran allowed a combined three runs and six hits over 11 innings in no-decisions against the New York Mets on Sept. 1 and the San Francisco Giants on Sept. 7.

Kershaw, who hasn’t faced Arizona this season, has an 18-11 record and a 2.81 ERA in 39 career regular-season starts against the Diamondbacks. However, he has struggled in Phoenix, posting a 7-10 mark and a 4.03 ERA in 20 regular-season starts.

Christian Walker (7-for-22, .318) has four homers off Kershaw. Ketel Marte is 9-for-28 (.321) with two blasts.

Kelly is unbeaten in his past 13 starts, recording six victories during the stretch. He has given up two or fewer runs nine times in that span.

Kelly received a no-decision against the Padres in his latest start, on Sept. 6. He allowed just three hits in seven innings, but they were all homers as he gave up four runs.

“Usually, if I’m going seven and (allow just) three hits, that’s usually a pretty good day,” Kelly said of the outing. “But they just didn’t miss the mistakes.”

Kelly has had major issues with the Dodgers in his career, going 0-7 with a 5.85 ERA in 10 starts. This season, he is 0-3 with a 9.69 ERA in three outings vs. Los Angeles.

Mookie Betts (7-for-18, .389) has hit three homers off Kelly, and Bellinger (5-for-18, .278) has two long balls. Justin Turner (9-for-20, .450), Will Smith (7-for-16, .438, one homer) and Max Muncy (9-for-21, .429, one homer) are among the other Dodgers who hit well against Kelly.

Betts extended his career-best homer count to 34 with a three-run blast in the ninth inning on Monday.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today

ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.