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The Sports Report: Looking at the second half of the baseball season

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw throws to the plate during the third inning.
Clayton Kershaw
(Associated Press)

Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.

Jorge Castillo on the Dodgers: The Dodgers were almost never at full strength in their 91 games before the All-Star break. Injuries devastated the lineup, hindered their bullpen and, most recently, left unexpected uncertainty in the starting rotation.

Clayton Kershaw was placed on the injured list days before the time off and less than a week after Trevor Bauer was placed on paid administrative leave after a woman accused him of sexual assault and obtained a temporary restraining order against him. The leave was extended a second time Wednesday to July 27. Bauer may never pitch for the Dodgers again.

The Dodgers still reached the break with five All-Stars and the second-best record in the majors at 56-35. Their plus-142 run differential is tops in the major leagues. The problem is the only team with a better record — the San Francisco Giants — is sitting above them in the National League West.

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The Dodgers begin the “second half” Friday against the Colorado Rockies two games behind the Giants (57-32). They have work to do to avoid a win-or-go-home wild-card game scenario with the San Diego Padres sitting behind them in third place. It’s an unfamiliar position for an organization vying for its ninth straight division title.

It’s starting to be an issue

Remember that unrivaled starting depth hyped at the start of the season? Bauer, Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Julio Urías and Dustin May resided in the rotation. Tony Gonsolin and David Price loomed for insurance.

The group was unparalleled. It was an undeniable strength. For three months, it fueled the Dodgers on most nights. Now it’s a giant question mark.

May is out of the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in May. Bauer is out and Kershaw went on the IL with left forearm inflammation.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said an MRI exam on Kershaw’s arm showed just inflammation, but any forearm or elbow trouble is cause for concern. The left-hander’s timetable for a return is publicly unknown.

To read the rest of this and Castillo’s other observations for the rest of the season, click here.

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Q&A on sexual assault case involving Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer

Five observations from the first half of the 2021 MLB season

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ANGELS

Jack Harris on the Angels: The best way to describe the Angels’ first half of the season: survival.

They dealt with key injuries to several stars and inconsistencies from their role players. They managed repeated shuffling to their roster and struggles on the mound. They overcame a poor start in the two months to reach the All-Star break over .500.

Manager Joe Maddon’s evaluation: “We got better. [That] is probably the best way to look at it.”

But another 2 1/2 months to go, and plenty of questions left to be answered, the Angels aren’t out of survival mode yet.

As they begin the second half of the season, here’s a look at where they’re at and what they need to do to make a legitimate playoff push down the stretch.

Read the rest by clicking here.

GALAXY

Galaxy midfielder Efrain Alvarez celebrates after scoring earlier this season.
(Associated Press)

Kevin Baxter on the Galaxy: The Galaxy have signed midfielder Efraín Álvarez to a two-year contract extension with a third-year option, a deal that keeps him under club control through the 2024 season.

A formal announcement is expected Thursday morning.

The signing was done under MLS’ U-22 initiative, which allows teams to sign players 22 and younger to lucrative contracts at a reduced charge against the league’s $4.9-million salary cap. The Galaxy signed defender Julian Araujo, 19, to a 4½-year extension under the initiative last week.

Álvarez, 19, currently on duty with the Mexican national team, has appeared in nine games for the Galaxy this season, matching a career high with six starts and one goal. A homegrown player, Álvarez grew up in East Los Angeles and signed his first professional contract with the second-tier LA Galaxy II when he was 15, becoming the youngest signing in USL history.

SPARKS

Erica Wheeler dribbles during the first half of a recent game.
(Associated Press)

Thuc Nhi Nguyen on the Sparks: It wasn’t just that Erica Wheeler was left off the WNBA All-Star roster that irked coach Derek Fisher. It was that the Sparks guard, whose stat line was comparable to the one that earned her a nomination in 2019, didn’t appear on the ballot.

Fisher, still peeved from Nneka Ogwumike’s omission from Team USA’s Olympic team earlier that week, said it just didn’t make sense.

Wheeler, meanwhile, had a lighthearted reaction after the WNBA announced its All-Stars on June 30.

“My Twitter finger itchhhhhhhhhhhhinnnnn!!!,” Wheeler tweeted with a GIF of rapper Soulja Boy walking away from a microphone. “But ima gone bout my business!”

In the face of another slight, Wheeler has no problem proving herself again. She’s been doing it her entire career.

The 5-foot-7 guard is the first undrafted player to win WNBA All-Star MVP and is now authoring the latest act of her unexpected career with the Sparks. She was the team’s life raft in the first half of the season, averaging 14 points, 4.4 assists and 2.8 rebounds while starting all 19 games.

OLYMPICS

Victoria Kim on the Olympics: In a week’s time, the now-anachronistically named 2020 Olympic Games will finally get underway.

It’s a moment Japan has long been preparing for — since March of last year, when the Tokyo Games were pushed back because of the pandemic; since 2016, when Japan’s then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took the baton from Rio de Janeiro in a Super Mario get-up; since 2013, when the country first clinched its hard-fought bid.

Even so, the country heads into the Olympics with a sense of resignation and a reckoning over how its leaders handled a pandemic that is marring what should be a marquee moment for national pride. Many Japanese are thinking less about races and gold medals than the fact that Tokyo is in a fourth state of emergency. Coronavirus infections are again on the rise, and supply problems have stalled a vaccination program.

Much has changed since May 2020, when Abe touted as a success the “Japan model” of battling COVID-19. Despite the long-standing due date of the Olympics — with a literal clock counting down the days in central Tokyo — the country finds itself struggling to defend its decisions, making eleventh-hour revisions and pushing ahead with a subdued, spectator-less Games with heavy restrictions on visiting athletes and its own citizens.

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The United States’ men’s basketball exhibition game against Australia scheduled for Friday night in Las Vegas has been canceled because of health and safety protocols.

USA Basketball cited “an abundance of caution” in making the decision Thursday night. The U.S. women’s game against Australia will be played as scheduled Friday in Las Vegas.

The decision to cancel the game came hours after Washington Wizards star Bradley Beal was ruled out of the Olympics after being placed into health and safety protocols. The team also said Detroit Pistons forward Jerami Grant also was in health and safety protocols “out of an abundance of caution.”

The Americans are still scheduled to play Spain on Sunday before heading to Tokyo, with their opening game against France set for July 25.

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Quantifying greatness: What makes Katie Ledecky the most dominant Olympic swimmer?

NBA PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE/RESULTS

All times Pacific

NBA FINALS

Phoenix vs. Milwaukee
Phoenix 118, Milwaukee 105
Phoenix 118, Milwaukee 108
Milwaukee 120, Phoenix 100
Milwaukee 109, Phoenix 103
Saturday: at Phoenix, 6 p.m., ABC
Tuesday: at Milwaukee, 6 p.m., ABC
*Thursday: at Phoenix, 6 p.m., ABC

*-if necessary

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1920 — Babe Ruth breaks his season record of 29 homers with his 30th, leading the New York Yankees past the St. Louis Browns, 5-2. Ruth ends the season with 54.

1920 — The United States sweeps Australia in five matches to win the Davis Cup for the first time since 1913. The U.S. team is made up of Bill Tilden and Bill Johnston.

1938 — Paul Runyan wins the PGA Championship by routing Sam Snead 8 and 7 in the final round.

1947 — Rocky Graziano scores a technical knockout with a barrage of 30 punches against Tony Zale in the sixth round to win the world middleweight boxing title. Held in Chicago Stadium, it’s the largest grossing fight in history.

1950 — Uruguay beats Brazil 2-1 to win soccer’s World Cup in Rio de Janeiro.

1967 — Kathy Whitworth wins the LPGA championship by one stroke over Shirley Englehorn. Whitworth sinks a fifty-foot uphill putt for a birdie on the 18th green at Pleasant Valley Country Club in Sutton Mass.

1989 — Betsy King birdies three of the first four holes of the final round to win her first U.S. Women’s Open championship by four strokes over Nancy Lopez.

1993 — Nick Faldo ties the best single round in 122 years of the British Open with a course-record 63 to give him a one-stroke lead after the second round.

1995 — Annika Sorenstam of Sweden wins the U.S. Women’s Open by one stroke over Meg Mallon, her first victory on the LPGA Tour.

2005 — In Las Vegas, Jermain Taylor beats Bernard Hopkins for the undisputed middleweight title. Hopkins, a winner of a record 20 consecutive defenses, starts slowly and the undefeated challenger builds up a big enough lead on two judges’ scorecards to take the crown.

2006 — J.R. Todd becomes the first black driver to win an NHRA Top Fuel event, beating Tony Schumacher in the Mopar Mile-High Nationals.

2011 — Kyle Busch wins the Nationwide race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to become the third driver to win 100 races in NASCAR’s three national series. Busch, with 22 Cup victories and 29 Trucks wins, also ties Mark Martin for first place in career Nationwide Series victories with 49. Richard Petty and David Pearson are the other drivers with at least 100 wins.

2012 — Roger Federer surpasses Pete Sampras to set the record for the most weeks at No. 1 in the ATP rankings. After winning Wimbledon a week ago — his 75th career ATP title — Federer returns to the top for the first time since June 2010. Today marks his 287th week at No. 1, one more than Sampras.

And finally

Giannis Antetokounmpo’s amazing blocked shot in Game 4 of the NBA Finals. Watch it here.

Until next time...

That concludes today’s newsletter. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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