The Kings’ quest: Maintain the defense

We interrupt our euphoria over the return of the NFL to Los Angeles and misery over Vin Scully’s retirement to discuss a team that brought recent championships to SoCal.

For decades, and the Los Angeles Kings are celebrating five of ’em this year, the franchise was one of many that had no discernible plan to win. In my opinion, sports franchises are like businesses. In competitive climates, you need a business plan or you’re in bankruptcy court. Your franchise has no plan, you rarely win titles. The Pittsburgh Steelers are an excellent example of this: Players change, sometimes coaches do, but the “blitzburgh” defensive philosophy doesn’t and they’re usually in the discussion for the Super Bowl.

Similarly, the Patriots had no such overarching plan until hiring Bill Belichik.

The Kings had no direction until hiring general manager Dean Lombardi. When he was hired in 2006, Kings front office employees were still using typewriters instead of computers. The office, indeed the entire franchise, was a blank canvas. So after a trip to Best Buy to outfit everybody with PCs, he set out to build the team with three relatively simple ideas:

1) Competition at goaltender,

2) The biggest, most capable defense possible,

3) On offense, centers before wingers.

Goaltender has been and will continue to be a done deal. Jonathan Quick won that competition years ago. Offense, while important, isn’t as important as what will lead the two-time Stanley Cup champs back into the picture for the third.

The Kings allowed the third-fewest goals in the NHL last year, mostly thanks to the Herculean contribution of Norris Trophy winner Drew Doughty. Don’t be fooled: Doughty played more shifts than any other player in the league last year and the Kings can’t rely on Doughty being bulletproof in a violent sport every year. The belief was that Slava Voynov would be the guy who could alleviate the press on Doughty, but um… this happened. 

Much like the Kings have struggled to move on from that ugly split, I get the distinct feeling they would love to give at least one younger, cheaper player a shot.

In training camp, it appears four of the six defensive roster spots are locked up — Doughty, Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez and Brayden McNabb. None of them are going anywhere for awhile. Muzzin and McNabb play with a bit of a mean streak. Muzzin takes more penalties than perhaps he should. McNabb has more room to grow at age 24. Muzzin is the oldest of the four at 27.

There are three players in their 30s with shots at making the team, but two are coming off of injuries and the third played for three different teams last year. Of the three, probably Matt Greene has the confidence of the fans, but that doesn’t carry into the front office.

Of three top younger prospects, what I’ve read is this is a training camp where the Kings have to make a decision on former first-round draft pick Derek Forbert. At 24, he’s had years to make an impression. Good luck standing out.

That leaves Zach Trotman and Kevin Gravel, and if you’re a casual fan you’re likely shrugging. Fair enough. The bottom line: Trotman is one of those underdog stories people love because he was literally the last player taken in the 2010 draft and eventually made the NHL. He’s considered a stay-at-home defenseman. NHL scouts say Gravel has “exceptional” defensive poise and a decent shot. They’re both about the same size.

I’m no hockey scout. You’re guess is as good as mine, but my belief is the Kings usually match one defenseman who takes offensive chances with a guy who camps out in front of the net. Doughty with Rob Scuderi or Robyn Regehr, for instance. I’m guessing they keep steady Matt Greene and match him with Kevin Gravel.

In a future post, I’ll take a peek at the offense. 

Since I can’t see the Rams in LA…

I lucked out Sunday. StubHub had a front row seat for me to watch the Rams in a drunken stupor.

I mean, I was the one in the drunken stupor, not the Rams. Whoops.

Anyway, they beat Tampa Bay 37-32, and I think I speak for sports fans from sea to shining sea when I say there are few things sweeter in life than your team winning a road game that you witness.

But from that excellent vantage point, there is not a strong list of reasons to believe the Rams are going to make the NFL playoffs. This game was more about cleaning up unfinished business, such as scoring their first touchdown — which Case Keenum did on the Rams first possession, a 44-yard pass to Brian Quick.

While long pass plays draw an emotional reaction, it underscored a simple reality: the Bucanneers have a horrible pass defense. Consider Keenum threw two TD passes. The second came to Tavon Austin on a similarly long pass play. On both plays, the cornerback didn’t have help from the safeties — whose primary responsibility is to prevent the deep ball.

When receivers turn around and backpedal in the act of catching a football, that’s because the receiver is so wide open he can almost signal for a fair catch.

L.A. can surely be pleased with its defensive line depth, which was considered an elite group before the Rams returned. Aaron Donald was said by NFL pundits to be on the level of Houston’s all-everything J.J. Watt prior to the season. Sunday, he deflected two passes. Even more important, for two consecutive weeks, Robert Quinn forced an opposing quarterback to fumble. Jameis Winston’s fumble Sunday was returned for a TD.

That praise has to be tempered, though. A Rams defensive lineman has been ejected two times in three games. I did not see what Eugene Sims did to earn his ejection, but as we used to say when someone at the party was about to throw up, “Dude, you’ve got to maintain.”

Even more alarming is that Winston threw for 405 yards Sunday. How much of that is on the Rams cornerbacks as opposed to the line, I’m not sure. However, as the Rams will be playing an excellent Arizona Cardinals offense this week, the gut feeling is L.A.’s defense might get further exposed.

Todd Gurley rushed for 85 yards that weren’t particularly noticeable, except for excellent balance on a touchdown run.

The upshot is this: The Rams aren’t a bad football team. In my opinion, in the NFL, with the exception of elite franchises or the utterly awful ones, all teams in the middle can be counted on to play a horrible game every four weeks. Why did the Buffalo Bills crush the Cardinals 33-18? Because Arizona is pretty damn good, but not elite. All of those teams in the middle will play way over their heads a couple of times a year and most can’t get out of their own way once a month.

The Rams had their September stinker in San Francisco to start the year, a 28-0 loss that still makes me cringe.

So it will take a lot more than five touchdowns against another middle-of-the-road team to see Los Angeles as more than what it is, especially since October is coming with one game sure to be a stink bomb in the process.

Which is sobering reality.

Life with Vin Scully, or rather through him

Mr. Chaus was preoccupied during a lengthy test at Serrano Junior High School, and so was I in the corner of his classroom. Thankfully, he had arranged the desks in an awkward theater-in-the-round pattern. Had they been in traditional rows, his sight line would have been clear to me, where I had a garish plug in my ear connected to a transistor radio.

It’s Oct. 19, 1981. The Dodgers are playing a winner-take-all Game 5 in the National League Championship Series in Montreal. I’m 13 years old.

Mr. Chaus excused himself from the room, saying he needed a bathroom break during a test. And there I was, hoping the static would stay clear so that I could listen to Vin Scully tell me if the Dodgers would reach the World Series.

Only it didn’t. The radio feedback had me freaking out far more than the exam. After all, it was open season for cheating if the teacher is in the restroom.

Only he wasn’t in the restroom. He snuck to the teachers lounge to watch the game on TV. He ran — if you could call it a run — and the only thing he could say through an awkward grin: “Dodgers 2, Expos 1!”

Teacher privilege. It would be one of the few times in my life when I didn’t get to hear The Great One call Another Great Moment.

Truth be told, I learned more about the English language from Scully than I ever did Chaus. As the tributes pour in for Scully’s final broadcasts as Dodgers announcer, you’ve likely read about the warmth and the cadence in his voice. That’s a gift God gave him. What he did with that, among other gifts to us, was convert that into a conduit for literacy.

To say Scully is one well-read fellow is to say Beethoven could play a scale. He was more likely to quote Thoreau from the top of his head than to read a statistic that was already flashing on your TV screen. He earned his degree at famed Jesuit institution Fordham University, a school that counts two Pulitzer Prize winners among its graduates.

Yet, it was intelligence that never seemed forced on his audience. Considering the Dodgers draw about 3 million fans every year, that’s a sizable group.

***

Normally, when I post I try to stick with one simple thought. How could I when one considers the magnitude of the Voice of the Dodgers? The youngest man to call a World Series game? The man who introduced Joe Montana and Dwight Clark to the world?

When you have a favorite team, often your impressions are formed through the prism and voice of its play-by-play broadcaster. His words invariably become linked to the events in your life, perhaps by happenstance, perhaps by providence.

How much of an influence was Vin Scully to me? I knew I wanted to get into sports journalism when I was 14 years old. Vin Scully was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame that year, and he continued to call Dodgers games for another 34 years after reaching that pinnacle of a career.

So, how can a stranger impact your life?…

***

When newspapers still had considerable clout to inform the public, The San Bernardino Sun occupied a building that stretched an entire block of its downtown district. Its sports department was influential and respected for a midsized publication. In the summer of 1988, a reporter worked Centre Court at Wimbledon, another at the Summer Olympics, still another at The Forum when the Lakers won the world title.

Yet, the cubicle that department toiled in looked like a battleship grey shoebox. This was my upbringing into sports journalism, crammed into that tin can with malfunctioning computers every night while my friends were chasing girls.

It wasn’t all hard work. I was the office prankster. I had a suicide pact with coworkers about Vin Scully. Who wants to live in a world without Vin Scully calling Dodgers games, after all?

The Dodgers were underdogs against the Oakland A’s in the World Series that year. I was 20 years old.

You know this call.

This was also the last time I truly lost composure watching a sports event. Had I been in a sports bar, although I couldn’t legally drink, it would have been appropriate. Had I worked for another sports department, say in North San Diego County, the only thing that would have been held against me was that my scream wasn’t pro-Padres.

But it was in an accomplished sports department, which meant I damaged my career for a few years. Oops.

Meanwhile, please note that while people were losing their minds at Dodger Stadium over what Kirk Gibson did, Vin Scully kept silent for almost 1 minute, 10 seconds, and let the roar permeate the broadcast while he considered his next line. That line became the exclamation point to one of baseball’s most memorable moments.

Grace under pressure. Wish I had learned that from Vin Scully earlier.

***

Qualcomm Stadium was never a comfortable place. It’s one of the last multipurpose stadiums in the country, which meant it lacked personality for both football and baseball. I was asked to cover the Dodgers minor leaguers as they played the Padres’ prospects before the major league game later that night. I’m wrapping up my career as a sportswriter in 2002. In less than a year, both of my parents will be diagnosed with cancer and I’ll be divorced because I will learn my wife has been cheating. I’m 34 years old.

I don’t remember who won the minor league game. Behind me, as I type, Vin Scully is reading the San Diego Union-Tribune because there’s more to the world than baseball. This would be my last chance to introduce myself to him, tell him how much his work meant to me on a personal and professional level. I didn’t. If there’s no cheering in the sports department, there surely isn’t hero worship in the press box.

The Dodgers shortstop is Cesar Izturis, who can’t hit to save his life but was one of the most dynamic defensive shortstops I’ve ever seen. Scully is a little past his prime — heresy, I know — but even at age 75 he can startle you with flashes of brilliance. Such as when a Padres batter hit a grounder that was a sure base hit, if only Izturis hadn’t drawn gasps from a sellout crowd with an electrifying stop.

“Render unto Cesar that which is Cesar’s!” Scully exulted, and I reflexively looked to his closed press box as if I were the only one who would appreciate the reference to Mark 12:17.

To say Scully is a man of faith … Well, I suppose comparisons to religious figures could come across as blasphemy. What I can say is that players have told me of his regular attendance at Catholic Mass and that while he doesn’t shy away from admitting his faith in God, Scully never told you to go to church. He never lectured us on morality at all. He simply assumed we want to be good people.

Because despite our issues, be they societal strife or microaggression, we do want to be good people. Most of us, anyway.

And if you don’t think having faith matters, take it from a guy who had a few hard knocks. It helps to be reminded there’s a God, sometimes.

***

I mentioned earlier that like ornaments on a Christmas tree, the lives of many Dodgers fans reflect memories crafted by the words of baseball’s poet laureate. Sometimes, in our frustration over injustice, it would do us well to hope that eventually societal wounds can heal. 

It’s evening in Atlanta, a city I didn’t even know existed then. Heck, on April 8, 1974, I didn’t even live in Southern California or know who the Dodgers were. I’m 6 years old. The Dodgers are playing the Braves, and Vin Scully is unafraid to heap praise on the accomplishment of an opposing player:

It’s a high drive into deep left center field. (Bill) Buckner goes back to the fence … It is gone. …

“What a marvelous moment for baseball. What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron, who was met at home plate, not only by every member of the Braves, but by his father and mother.

“He threw his arms around his father and as he left the home plate area his mother came running across the grass, threw her arms around his neck and kissed him for all he was worth.

“As Aaron circled the bases, the Dodgers on the infield shook his hand. And that was a memorable moment.

“Aaron is being mobbed by photographers. He’s holding his right hand high in the air. And for the first time in a long time, that poker face of Aaron’s shows the tremendous strain and relief of what it must have been like to live with for the past several months. It is over.”

Goodbye, LA Sports Arena, we didn’t know ye

This week, a guy climbed into one of those giant excavators, slammed its giant metal teeth into the roof of the Los Angeles Sports Arena, ripped opened a giant gash into the faded blue roof and the sports world reacted the same way I expect people to react to my death.

With nonchalance.

Eventually, a couple of reporters desperate to add copy to satisfy the 24-hour news cycle attempted to shed crocodile tears over the demise of a major arena that predates not just Staples Center, but every NBA and NHL arena currently in operation — including Madison Square Garden. And still, despite the golden prose of yon west coast wordsmiths, nobody cared.

Actually, that’s not true. Despite its use as an indoor sports arena, Major League Soccer and expansion team LAFC care very much in that the sooner it comes down, the better. LAFC doesn’t have a player under contract, but it does have a deal to build a soccer-specific venue in its place. Banc of California Stadium opens in 2018.

Perhaps the arena could have been rescued. The Forum earned an inner facelift as a concert-only venue. The Sports Arena? Not only did it not get a makeover, it didn’t even get one of those dramatic implosion send offs they put on the local news.

The Sports Arena was a venue so irrelevant it simply needed to flatline, have a sheet tugged over it, and wheeled away.

The first time I saw the inside of the Sports Arena was on television, but not for an actual sporting event. It was when Carver High School advanced to the city championship game in the 1980 CBS drama “The White Shadow.” So this fictitious basketball team strolls across the court of the arena, guard Morris Thorpe looks to the ceilings and says that place was the sport where a player like him could really shine.

And as a child, I’m looking at my TV screen thinking, “There? You want to shine in a dump like that?”

That was 36 years ago.

Since then, the Clippers moved into the Sports Arena — having left an equally nasty gym in San Diego. The Clippers were pretty much the only reason I ever set foot into that place. Tickets were cheap for a college student, $10. Later, I covered Clippers games for a regional newspaper.

Only the Sports Arena floors were liquor store-level dirty. The seating in some sections was held together with electrical tape, and it was the only arena in the NBA that hadn’t upgraded its scoreboard to a television screen for instant replay.

Reporters usually have to wait for the locker room doors to open after a game. Players get a few minutes to hear from their coaches, shower, decompress, etc., before listening to our inane questions. Having said that, I don’t ever recall stepping into the Clippers locker room. I remember Larry Brown and the players being brought out to us. It makes me wonder if the toilets worked.

So when Staples Center opened, the Clippers ran like hell knowing full well it would be the No. 3 priority tenant behind the Lakers and Kings.

From the outside, the Sports Arena looked like a swelling bruise on South Central Los Angeles, or perhaps like a pimple beneath the chin of the University of Southern California. USC playing football in the neighboring Coliseum is charming in historical context. Its basketball team had to panhandle its graduates for decades to abandon the Sports Arena, build the Galen Center, and finally compete with UCLA for top recruits.

So let’s get to the bottom line. The Los Angeles Sports Arena was a dirty, charmless, nondescript building that held no lasting memories for anyone. Its life was without consequence. And in a city like LA, when you are irrelevant, you vanish with nary a trace.

LAFC needs to keep that in mind when it opens its new digs.

Donovan may help Galaxy, but not MLS

If you’ve heard of the law of diminishing returns, know that I don’t take as much pleasure in sports as I used to. Only recently have I come to grips with sports as an addiction, like heroin or the music of U2. I often find myself watching sports not because of love as much as a function of the autonomic nervous system. I watch because the feeling of “must do” overrides the feeling of “ought to do.”  

For those rare occasions when an athlete does something truly thrilling, I love the guy for that fleeting moment of reintroducing the love of sport. This was the last time I honestly lost my composure watching a sporting event.

So know I love that Landon Donovan, who retired too early in my opinion, returned to the Los Angeles Galaxy last week and played in his first game Sunday in a 4-2 victory over Orlando City SC.

Overall, though, I have a sinking feeling this is a bad idea for MLS. The reason is that the league, while telling us repeatedly about its improving quality of play, rarely acquires an elite soccer player who is still in his physical prime. Indeed, there is a global reputation of the league handing out golden parachutes to international players who want a final decent paycheck before bowing out.

Consider that Donovan is currently the greatest American-born player. He isn’t the most recognizable player in MLS history. That would be David Beckham, who joined the Galaxy at age 32. Beckham’s arrival rang in a rule change for a league that was known for being miserly — the designated player rule. Basically, it’s a financial workaround to bring in a limited number of free agent talent. And other teams responded by bringing in international superstars that were a bit past their prime, such as the New York Red Bulls did with Thierry Henry, who was 33 when he signed.

Orlando City SC and NYCFC made multiple designated player moves to excite a fan base for their first seasons in 2025. Orlando signed 32-year-old Kaka. NYCFC added David Villa, 33, Andrea Pirlo, 36, and Frank Lampard, 37. Lampard’s ballyhooed arrival last year fizzled thanks to age-related injury.

Even when the league debuted, it touted as one of its main draws Colombian star Carlos Valderamma, who was 35 at the time.

Understand, I haven’t much of a clue how to make MLS on the same level as Serie A in Italy or the Premiere League in England. Heck, I wouldn’t know how to lift MLS past Liga MX.

But signing players on the downside of their careers isn’t a solution. If you name your MVP award after a guy, you shouldn’t ask him to play again and expect it to work.

On a personal level, as a fan, I’m glad Donovan is back.

But what’s left of my sports-fried addicted mind knows that this is simply the latest hit of bad heroin.

The offensive coordinator is likely the first fall guy for the Rams

The first thing to acknowledge is a grand failure can be a time for learning. And didn’t we all learn a lot about the Los Angeles Rams when they got their butts kicked in San Francisco on Monday?

The upshot is that L.A. might have had as much success running the flying-wedge offense last night if Congress had allowed it. Strap on the leather helmets, boys, it’s gonna be a dangerous ride to the outskirts of Concussionville.

The primary takeaway from this 28-0 wreckage is that most of it is the offense’s fault. The Rams gained just 185 yards, only 65 of it on the ground. The Rams took great pride in their running game, with last season’s rookie of the year running back Todd Gurley finishing as the league’s third-leading carrier. A good running game in the NFL is about 150 yards.

If you watched the game, the Niners were all too happy to commit more men into “the box,” football parlance for defenders lined up between the offensive tackles and no more than five yards from the line of scrimmage. They dared L.A. to pass, and the Rams were utterly dreadful.

Case Keenum didn’t even complete half of his passes (17-for-35). Wait, scratch that. If you count the two interceptions he threw, technically he did.

Even worse is wide receiver Tavon Austin’s four receptions. Keep in mind, Austin signed a contract extension before the start of the year with a princely sum befitting a No.1 receiver. If you’re going to get paid like a No.1 receiver, you have to produce like one. Four receptions for 13 yards won’t make anyone outside of your own family believe you’re the next Torry Holt.

As often happens when an offense gets humiliated to this extent, the defense flips out. Defensive lineman Aaron Donald is likely facing suspension for losing his mind and getting ejected. I’d like to tell you I witnessed what he did, but I don’t even want to listen to Chris Berman on commentary during good times.

Ultimately, there’s no way you get rid of Keenum, Austin or Gurley. What usually happens is ownership wants answers. And coach Jeff Fisher might point to offensive coordinator Rob Boras.

How do you break up a defense that stacks its men on the line of scrimmage? One way is the threat of long passes. Austin should have been running wind sprints to draw defenders with him, whether or not Keenum could throw the ball in that direction. If Austin is averaging three yards per reception, he may as well have never left the huddle because he sure as hell didn’t leave the line of scrimmage.

I don’t claim firing Boras will be an instant cure, nor do I believe he will be cut after one game.

However, Fisher has yet to finish a winning season with the Rams. This team is under pressure to win more than lose now, let alone lose by four touchdowns.

Expect Boras to face heat quickly, because it won’t get any easier for the Rams.

You should take the Rams on MNF

The first time the Rams were in Los Angeles, for you young whippersnappers out there, this was the game circled on the calendar. The gold and blue would head north to play their geographical rivals. You’ve heard of the Dodgers and Giants being bitter, and they are, but baseball is not inherently a violent game.

Add a five-hour alcohol fueled tailgate in a miserable place to play football, such as Candlestick Park, and it was on.

Back then, the 49ers of the 1980s-90s were loaded, to boot. Players of such skill and accomplishment — five Super Bowls to their credit — that naming those players only wastes further time to talk about tonight’s game.

So here’s the point about tonight: I see no logical rationale that San Francisco beats the Rams tonight.

Well, there is one. The Niners have won their last five openers, even the last couple of seasons when they’ve been lousy. Last year, for instance, they beat down Minnesota 20-3, and the Vikings went to the playoffs.

San Francisco also took out Green Bay twice, Seattle and Dallas in that run. Los Angeles has been mediocre at best during that time.

But intellect suggests you take the Rams.

The thing with football culture is stability. Don’t get me wrong. Of course you want talent, ferocity, size, speed. But all of those needed attributes of 11 men have to weld together into one stable unit. The 49ers, at this point, are anything but.

They have a new coach in Chip Kelly who was wildly unpopular, and maligned as a megalomaniac, when he was dismissed in Philadelphia. Think of the fanboy reaction to Jared Leto as the Joker in “Suicide Squad” and then add 250 pounds to the actor’s frame. Miscast. Tone deaf. Self-righteous. An irritant, like fingernails on a chalkboard.

He brings a spread offense to a team that reached the Super Bowl because of a run-based I-formation offense. New coach with drastically different philosophy equals lack of cohesion at the start of a season.

Now add a gallon of perceived social injustice to the mix. This is the team whose backup quarterback started the sit/kneel/frown/fist-in-the-air protest during the national anthem. ESPN for the first time will keep a live camera on the 49ers bench instead of cutting to commercial just to see how many teammates are going to protest.

I see a team that wants to make a statement about the police instead of playing football at the highest level.

I think the Rams, behind a rested Todd Gurley, will trample San Francisco with the same bludgeoning running game that was once the Niners forte. I don’t think it will be a blowout. Running teams rarely win by three touchdowns. But win they do, so the Rams will fly back to their new home with a win tonight of 24-13.

Roberts: The Dodgers micromanager

Common sense tells you there’s no such thing as magic, but there are times in life that we are willing to suspend our disbelief — a good show at The Magic Castle in Hollywood, or the pursuit of something historical in nature.

Consider what happened to end the seventh inning during Rich Hill’s bid for a perfect game at Marlins Park on Saturday. Yasiel Puig, derided for years over a perceived lack of hustle, made this supernatural catch of a Martin Prado drive. Hill threw his arms up in the air. The Dodgers bench erupted with joy, congratulated Puig and the team returned to the dugout. Because it was good fortune. Enchanted, perhaps.

They didn’t congratulate Hill, by the way, because baseball players are superstitious by nature. Who wants to jinx a perfect game? To do so, perhaps that would be the baseball equivalent of black magic.

Magic, humanity’s feeble attempt to comprehend moments in the joy we witness.

But as we’ve come to expect from the micromanagers running the Dodgers — who ironically enough are owned by a guy named Magic — there shall be no joy in Chavez Ravine. There shall only be strict adherence to the mathematical equation.

Manager Dave Roberts pulled Hill aside and told him his quest to pitch Major League Baseball’s 24th perfect game was over. Hill had some redness and heat on his finger, a blister could possibly form. Thanks for helping the team. Hit the showers. Make it a cold shower, while you’re at it.

I was at Marlins Park last night, Tweeting and posting live updates of this incredible effort from five rows behind the dugout. When the bottom of the eighth inning was about to start, I was looking up the history of Dodgers no-hitters and perfect games. They had two no-hitters in 2014. It was 51 years, one day from the only perfect game in Dodgers history, pitched by Sandy Koufax and documented by a man far classier than I.

What I couldn’t see in the dugout was how angry Hill was, as well he should. I realize it’s no consolation, but that anger was magnified by my fellow Dodgers fans that I could see.

What happened at Marlins Park last night was the latest in an ever-increasing list of Dodgers decisions that illustrate the shortcomings of analytics-exclusive front office decisions. To recap, analytics in sports — as popularized in the excellent Michael Lewis book “Moneyball” — is a tool to help teams without wealth and resources to stay competitive.

Only the Dodgers do have wealth and resources.

So the front office personnel consult the numbers and sign/trade for the affordable injury-prone: such as Brett Anderson, Brandon McCarthy, Alex Wood, Bud Norris, Scott Kazmir, Mike Bolsinger, Brandon Beachy … are you starting to get the point? The otherwise durable Zack Greinke was let go in the process. No worry. We were told. We’ll make adjustments on defense for something called “run prevention.”

Pulling Hill from a historic quest was simply “asset protection,” for he, too, has a history of injuries. Wouldn’t want to risk another guy getting injured six outs away from a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment.

Had the Dodgers chosen to retain Greinke instead of acquire a stable of injury-prone pitchers, Hill would likely be a No. 3 starter, at best. As such, Roberts likely believed him to be the only reliable pitcher not named Clayton Kershaw.

This is how important baseball history actually is: Curt Schilling became a national hero for pitching a game where he eventually started to bleed through his sock. Hill? Maybe he has a blister. Maybe, but doggone it, can’t be too careful.

Of course, the front office wouldn’t have to worry about asset protection if it studied injury reports with the same vigor it does spreadsheets. 

You almost have to wonder what prior Dodgers managers would have decided. Actually, you don’t. Tommy Lasorda would have kept him in. Every Dodgers manager prior would have likely done the same. Don Mattingly, who leads the Marlins after the Dodgers cut him loose last year, I haven’t seen his comments. He probably didn’t make one.

As such, it was not Rich Hill who made history, it was Roberts and the Dodgers front office. The Elias Sports Bureau reported that no pitcher had been removed in the quest for a perfect game that late in the game, at least not since 1900.

After the game, Roberts told reporters that the decision actually made a 5-0 Dodgers victory feel like a loss.

That is ironic, because that is precisely what I was saying outside of Marlins Park while I cursed the Dodgers front office in the mist.

We’ve seen this act from the Dodgers before

Earlier in the season, when the Dodgers were under threat of getting buried by the San Francisco Giants — L.A. was behind by 7 1/2 games at one point — some dude kept trying to troll. According to him, I should be satisfied that the Dodgers have won the National West Division three years in a row. According to his words, I’m spoiled by success.

At risk of sounding like a brat — I’m not, I’m not, I’m not.

But seriously folks. Sports fans need a quick reminder of what the point is for all those tickets, caps, parking, hot dogs, beer, kids toys, nights in front of the flatscreen while your wife fumes over putting her shows on DVR. You want your team to win the championship, to hoist the trophy, to have that silly parade through your town.

There is no such thing as a division champion, no matter what that T-shirt says. That’s MLBshop.com trying to pull another $25 out of your credit card. Winning the division three consecutive years doesn’t constitute a dynasty.

There is no such thing as a league champ. You win a pennant for winning the league. Your team is not a champion for reaching the World Series.

The only championship comes from winning the World Series. The Dodgers haven’t won it, or for that matter been in one, since 1988.

The Giants have won three championships since the Dodgers last went to the Series. Arizona won one. The Padres and Rockies have been to one since. Only six teams have not reached the World Series since L.A. last went.

The Dodgers get ready for six uncomfortable hours flying across the continent — through that hurricane-generator known as the Gulf of Mexico — for a series in Miami this weekend. They’re in a good place, otherwise. They’re five games up on San Francisco, with a magic number of 19 to qualify for the playoffs. Number crunchers a fivethirtyeight.com estimate the Dodgers have a better than 99 percent chance to reach the playoffs. (Although they are the same guys who give Donald Trump a 20 percent chance to win the presidential election and current polls don’t seem to indicate that to me.)

As to the Dodgers reaching the playoffs, so what? We’ve seen this before.

Can anyone give me a rationale that the Dodgers will win the World Series that doesn’t involve blind hope? From where I see it, the current roster is the weakest of the last four Dodgers seasons. The last three included Zack Grienke, who they let go in a cost-cutting move. This is the year L.A. finally put its foot down on an immature Yasiel Puig, because his production slipped drastically. We still have no idea if Clayton Kershaw can pitch again.

The only position where anyone can argue the Dodgers have upgraded significantly is at shortstop. Corey Seager is that good.

But the way I see the NL West, the Dodgers good fortune stems primarily from a fantastic Giants collapse. San Francisco had the best record in baseball going into the All-Star break. For reasons I do not know, since then the Giants are the worst team in baseball at 16-33.

So you’ll have to excuse me if I’m a tad skeptical about L.A. Oh, I’m watching. I’m even going to Miami to watch the Dodgers play.

But my skepticism will end when the Dodgers finally stop settling for mediocrity and win the World Series.

Then I’ll consider myself spoiled.

USMNT reflections: Now that I’m sober

Yesterday, I made the road trip to EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., to partake in some drunken patriotism. 

I like soccer. I love international soccer. Thing is, it’s a wonderful reason to drink heavily and talk so much crap that intellect vanishes. It’s like a death spiral for me. I drink. I’m very funny when I drink, and people buy me beer out of appreciation for the laughs. Then I get funnier. My improv version to the lyrics of the national anthem for Trinidad y Tobago should have gotten me kicked out and the game hadn’t even started yet.

Unfortunately, it also leads to me forgetting to zip my fly after I finish that postgame bathroom scramble.

So now that I’m sober after the Americans’ 4-0 triumph over Trinidad y Tobago in World Cup qualifying, I have a couple of thoughts:

1) Back in 2002, the U.S. opened the World Cup by punching Portugal in the mouth, if memory serves. What stood out in the game was the Americans had this brash teenager who just wouldn’t take no for an answer. So it’s 14 years later, and I see a lot of Landon Donovan in Christian Pulisic. 

Every international team needs a player who just doesn’t give a damn what you think of him. One who knows this game draws the eyes of a planet and still wants the ball. Not that Pulisic could play on Brazil, but if the Americans don’t have that type of player, they won’t get better. Pulisic could play in as many as five World Cups.

In the NBA, people wonder who will be the next Michael Jordan. I think we know who the next Donovan is.

2) I still count myself as a Jurgen Klinsmann backer. Man, that guy tinkers so much in games that it makes you want to spill blood. Having said that, the Yanks have scored 10 goals in their last two games without Clint Dempsey. They pitched a shutout without John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin. The only conclusion to draw is those awkward lineup combos pay off when it’s needed in World Cup qualifying.

3) A shutout is a shutout. Appreciate Tim Howard while you can. It doesn’t matter that neither Trinidad or Tabago can shoot.

4) This is kind of an obvious point: I can’t help but wonder if Klinsmann is rethinking the “let’s move on from Jozy Altidore” thing. Two goals Tuesday. Count me intrigued.

5) I loved the pregame tailgate with the American Outlaws. I respect supporters groups. Having said that, guys, let us know when the march to the stadium kicks off. We’re drunk. Sound off an air horn or something.

Or maybe we could at least send out a search party for Sam’s Army.

6) Anyone else notice Klinsmann avoided talking about Pulisic at halftime and instead heaped praise of Sacha Kljestan? Nice on two fronts: One, his opinion matters more to the teenager than mine. Two, Kljestan’s goal in the first half effectively ended Trinidad as a threat.

7) Very lame of Trinidad fans to get the police to ask the Americans in front, like me to sit down instead of stand. We were excited. We wanted to stand. However, in retrospect I’m glad the Trinidadians — or the Tobagans — had an unobstructed view of their ass-kicking.