The best two teams in the National League will meet for three games starting Monday night at Petco Park in San Diego, with the Dodgers and Padres fighting for seeding and staging what they both hope would be a National League Division Series preview.
San Diego is the hottest team in baseball with seven straight wins, and 20 victories in their last 25 games. They’ve pulled within 2½ games of the Dodgers with 12 to play (the Dodgers have 13 games left).
Dodgers divisional races
It’s the second-closest NL West race for the Dodgers of the last eight years, the first seven of which ended with a division title. Only the 2018 clash with Colorado, that needed an extra day to decide, was closer than the Dodgers and Padres are now with two weeks remaining in the regular season.
“We better embrace it as a pennant race. The goal is to win the division, every year. Those guys are playing as good a baseball as anyone in the big leagues, playing with a lot of confidence,” manager Dave Roberts said on a conference call Sunday. “They’re going to be ready for us, so I expect us to have that same intensity.”
The Dodgers have the best record (33-14) and run differential (+103) in the majors. The Padres have the third-best record (31-17) and second-best run differential (+78). The White Sox are the only other team with a better record than San Diego.
The Dodgers lead the majors in home runs (90), with the Padres tied for the lead in stolen bases (44). Both teams are in the top four in the National League in runs per game, home runs, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+ and wRC+.
Los Angeles has won four of the seven games this season with the Padres, winning two of three in San Diego from August 3-5, and splitting four from August 10-13 at Dodger Stadium.
“We had a couple really good series with them, high intensity,” Chris Taylor said on a conference call Sunday night. “They picked up a couple guys at the deadline, and they’ve been playing really good baseball. We just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing, match their intensity, and play our game.”
San Diego was baseball’s most active team at the August 31 trade deadline, making six trades and acquiring nine new players on the active roster. The headliner was Mike Clevinger, who pitched a seven-inning shutout on Sunday against San Francisco. The Padres swapped their rotation order, pushing Dinelson Lamet to start the series opener against the Dodgers. Whether that was a ploy to avoid the Dodgers getting a look at Clevinger before potentially facing him in one of the first couple games of the NLDS remains to be seen.
The Padres also added two catchers who can actually hit, led by Austin Nola, who’s hitting .296/.369/.530 this season. Nola and fellow newcomer Jason Castro have a combined eight extra-base hits in 54 plate appearances with San Diego, compared to the seven extra-base hits in 125 plate appearances for former catchers Austin Hedges, Francisco Mejia, and Luis Torrens (Hedges and Torrens were traded away).
Trevor Rosenthal, now the Padres’ closer, was one of three relievers added at the deadline. Rosenthal, Dan Altavilla, and Taylor Williams have allowed a combined one run in nine innings, with 13 strikeouts since joining San Diego.
After the trade deadline, the Padres are 10-2.
“They kind of look like a whole new ball club,” Dodgers catcher Will Smith said on a conference call Sunday.
What’s at stake
With the way the playoffs are reportedly set up this season, the wild card rounds will be played at home ballparks of the top four seeds in each league, before the postseason moved into bubbles, which for the National League (and potential World Series) would be in Texas.
Dodgers-Padres pitching probables
|Mon, Sep 14||6:10 p.m.||Kershaw v. Lamet||SNLA|
|Tue, Sep 15||6:10 p.m.||Gonsolin v. Davies||SNLA|
|Wed, Sep 16||1:10 p.m.||May v. Paddack||SNLA/ESPN*|
If the only home field advantage a team will get is in the first round, it’s worth it to finish among the top four seeds. Meaning either win the division, or finish with the best record among second-place teams in the NL. But there’s such a gap between the Padres (31-17) and the current No. 5-seed Marlins (23-21) that it’s not plausible either the Dodgers or Padres would fall farther than the fourth seed.
The division winner will also at least in theory face a worse opponent in the wild card round. Should the Dodgers (who are five games up on the No. 2-seed Braves) or Padres finish with the top seed, they would face the No. 8 seed in the first round instead of the No. 5 team as the No. 4 seed. But there is such a jumble of mediocre teams on the lower half of the NL standings that it might not matter much whether you’re the first or fourth seed, at least in terms of opponents faced. Only three games separate the No. 5 Marlins and No. 10 Brewers (20-24).
What these two teams are playing for is pride. The Dodgers want to win the division like they have done under every full season of this ownership group, and the Padres would love nothing more than stopping the Dodgers’ seven-year stranglehold on the National League West.
That should be more than enough to make a fascinating series in San Diego.