NLDS Series Preview: Padres head to Los Angeles to attempt to “slay the dragon”

Credit: MLB

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Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

After 162 games and a truly “Wild” Card Series victory against the New York Mets, the Padres will once again be faced with conquering an inevitable task.

Starting on Tuesday night, they will look to continue their postseason run and slay the “dragon up the freeway” Los Angeles Dodgers; the 111-win juggernaut referred to by Padres owner Peter Seidler. The teams will meet in the NLDS for the second time in three years after the Dodgers swept San Diego in three games in 2020.

After a multitude of mammoth swings to de-throne their NL West foes as the “top dog” in the division, the Padres have continually fallen short. The 2022 regular season was another stark reminder of the fact that even after the Padres swung for the fences at the trade deadline and landed superstars Juan Soto and Josh Hader, they finished 22 games behind a Dodgers team that is being considered by many to be one of the greatest teams of all-time.

If the Padres are to reach their ultimate goal, it will have to go through Los Angeles, a team that beat them down in 14 of the 19 times the teams faced each other in the regular season.

However, the playoffs are a different setting. The Padres, after their Wild Card Series win over the Mets, will host a playoff game in front of fans on Friday night for the first time since 2006. For San Diego, they feel as though they are peaking at the right time. Center fielder Trent Grisham, who batted .184 with a .626 OPS in the regular season, led the offensive attack by hitting .500 with two key home runs against Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom in games one and two.

On the other side, the Dodgers have the advantage of coming into the series fully rested. They’ll be lining up two of the game’s best starting pitchers for the first two games in Los Angeles. Let’s breakdown the matchups for each of the first two games, with a look ahead to what might be in store for a game three:

Game 1: Padres at Dodgers, Tuesday at 9:37 ET (Mike Clevinger, 7-7, 4.33 ERA vs. Julio Urias, 17-7, 2.16 ERA)

Game one features the Padres presumed fourth starter, Clevinger, facing off against the undisputed ace of the Dodgers’ 2022 season, Julio Urias. Urias, regarded by many as one of the premier pitching talents in baseball, seems more than likely to receive Cy Young votes for a season in which he put up 4.9 bWAR over 175 innings. In four starts against the Padres in 2022, Urias has gone a perfect 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA across 24 innings.

Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

With the Dodgers figuring to have a marked advantage on the mound in the first game of the series, it will be interesting to see how the Padres monitor Clevinger throughout his outing. In his final start of the regular season, he threw six shutout innings against the Chicago White Sox before being placed on the IL with an illness. In three starts against Los Angeles this season, Clevinger is 0-2 with a 9.69 ERA. Given the circumstances, Clevinger will need to be remarkably better to give San Diego a fighting chance in game one.

It’s also unknown as to Sean Manaea’s role in the upcoming series, specifically in a game one where Clevinger may be kept on a short leash. Manaea’s season has overall been a disappointment, but in his last ten innings, he’s only allowed one earned run. In a late September relief outing against Los Angeles, Manaea threw four innings of one-run ball where he believed he threw some of the sharpest secondary pitches of his career. He may be tasked with throwing multiple innings following Clevinger’s departure, based on the flow and situation of the game.

Game 2: Padres at Dodgers, Wednesday at 8:37 ET (Yu Darvish, 16-8, 3.10 ERA vs. Clayton Kershaw, 12-3, 2.28 ERA)

Game two features a classic pitching matchup between two of the better pitchers of this generation. After enduring another season limited by injury, Kershaw still managed to post one of the better seasons of his decorated career. In his 15th MLB season, he has remained as steady as ever. In Kershaw’s 12 innings against the Padres in 2022, he only permitted one run and struck out 11. He’ll get yet another chance to cement himself as one of the greatest pitchers of all time if he is able to replicate his regular season success into October.

The Padres will counter with Yu Darvish, having a career year of his own. In a year that saw him post his lowest ERA in an entire season since 2014, Darvish has emerged as the true ace the Padres have been able to count on. As well as being effective, Darvish has given the Padres a significant amount of length each time he takes the ball. The right-handed pitcher came up just short of hitting the 200-inning mark (194 2/3) and finished the regular season by throwing at least six innings in 23 consecutive starts and 28 of his 30 starts in 2022. He was as advertised in Game 1 of the Wild Card Series in New York, throwing seven innings of one-run ball en route to a victory. He will be a major key if the Padres want to continue to make noise in the Postseason.

Game 3: Dodgers at Padres, Friday time TBD (Starters TBD)

Game three will be historic for the Padres, if nothing else, Petco Park will host a Postseason game with fans for the first time since the 2006 NLDS. The Padres hosted the Cardinals in the 2020 NL Wild Card Series, though without fans as it was in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Padres left many wondering what the atmosphere would have been like with fans, and won’t have to wonder much longer.

(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Neither team has named a starter for game three, and there are multiple directions each team could go. For the Dodgers, the odds-on choice may be Tyler Anderson, another Dodgers starter who had a career renaissance in 2022 after posting a 2.57 ERA which was his career-best in a single season by a full run.

Los Angeles could also opt to start Tony Gonsolin, who was superb in 2022 before suffering a forearm strain in late August. Gonsolin made an appearance in the Dodgers’ final regular season series against the Rockies but only threw two innings and 40 pitches. Andrew Heaney, another potential option, ended the regular season by working out of the bullpen. It’s likely the Dodgers will elect to use him as a multi-inning reliever.

Dustin May is yet another option, though he has not made an appearance since September 21 after a back injury forced him to the IL.

For San Diego, it’ll either be Blake Snell or Joe Musgrove. Both starters will be on complete rest if called upon, though Snell would have an extra day after throwing game two against New York.

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The straightforward choice would be Snell, who has posted a 2.50 ERA in nine career starts against Los Angeles, which includes two starts in the 2020 World Series.

However, after Snell’s poor performance in the Wild Card Series and Musgrove’s recent run of dominance (only 1 ER allowed in his past 29 IP), the team may be compelled to ride the hot hand, especially if there is a 2-0 series lead for either team.

The Padres have proved they have the talent to cut down a 100-win team with their impressive display last weekend. They’ll need more of the same this week if they are to “slay the dragon” that has so frequently tormented them.

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