Recently the Padres have started the season against the Los Angeles Dodgers or played the team early on.
But this year, the calendar turned to May before San Diego finally faces the challenge. And a challenge it is with the Dodgers in first place in the National League West and tied with the St. Louis Cardinals and Tampa Bay Rays for the most wins in baseball at 20. Although the Padres reached first place in the division early in the season, the team now sits in third place behind the Arizona Diamondbacks although only 1.5 games out at 18-14.
The Dodgers have Thursday off before traveling to San Diego, while the Padres will fly from Atlanta after their decisive 11-2 victory over the Braves. The foe from up the freeway will arrive with the National League Player of the Month Cody Bellinger toting his stratospheric offensive numbers.
Bellinger leads all of baseball in several categories including batting average, runs, hits, and on-base percentage. In fact, his 41 home runs and .431 batting average in the first 31 games of a season rank third behind only Hank Aaron and Jimmie Fox. Last season, the outfielder had a bit of a sophomore slump with “only” 25 home runs, a batting average of .260 and 151 strikeouts. To say that Bellinger has shown an ability to adjust would be a gross understatement.
So far this year, the Dodgers have performed much better against right-handers than lefties. We will see if that trend continues, as three left-handers (Eric Lauer, Joey Lucchesi, and Nick Margevicius) will face the visitors. In the offseason, L.A. signed A.J. Pollock to a four-year, $55 million contract to play center and improve the team’s batting against left-handed pitchers However an elbow infection has pushed him to the IL with Alex Verdugo getting more playing time
Shortstop Cory Seager has returned to the lineup following a difficult 2018 season which included two surgeries (Tommy John and arthroscopic hip). Understandably he’s off to a bit of a slow start.
Game 1: Friday, May 3, 7:10 PDT — Eric Lauer (2-3, 4.41 ERA, 1.312 WHIP) vs. Clayton Kershaw (1-0, 2.25 ERA, 0.75 WHIP)
Lauer’s two wins in 32.2 innings so far this season have come against the bottom-dwelling San Francisco Giants. In his last outing, he pitched 5.2 innings, giving up two hits and two runs in an 8-3 extra-inning win over the Washington Nationals. Against Lauer, the otherworldly Bellinger has batted .500/.500/667/1.167. Max Muncy (.667/.750/1.667/2.417) and Austin Barnes (.333/.333/.333/.667) have also hit well against Lauer.
Kershaw, the usual first-game starter for the Dodgers, has pitched only 20 innings so far this season. Kershaw began the year on the injured list with a shoulder issue. As one would expect few Padres have hit well against Kershaw. Eric Hosmer (.333/.333/.533/.867) and Manuel Margot (.267/.313/.333/.646) can claim that honor.
Game 2: Saturday, May 4, 5:40 PDT — Joey Lucchesi( 3-2 4.94 ERA 1.45 WHIP) vs. Rich Hill (0-0, 1.50 ERA 0.83 WHIP)
In his last outing, Lucchesi pitched only four innings against the Washington Nationals on April 28. He gave up nine hits and five runs, only four of which were earned. The Padres ended up losing the game 7-6. In only two at-bats, Bellinger has batted (.500/.500/1.000/1.500) against Lucchesi. Enrique Hernandez, who has the most at-bats (eight) against Lucchesi, has a batting line of (.375/.375/.875/1.250).
Like Kershaw, Hill also began the season on the IL. Thanks to a strained knee, he has pitched only six innings. The Dodgers won his only start 7-6 on April 28 against the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 18 ABs Hunter Renfroe has hit .333/.368/.722/1.091 against Hill. Manny Machado has faced him only seven times with a batting line of .286/.286/.429/.714.
Game 3: Sunday, May 5, 1:10 PM Nick Margevicius (2-3, 3.23 ERA 1.11 WHIP) vs. Kenta Maeda (3-2, 4.41 ERA, 1.50 WHIP)
Margevicius has been one of the most surprising additions to the team this year. One of 29 non-roster invitees to spring training, the Padres brought him up from High-A and threw him into the deep end. A crafty lefty in the mold of Randy Jones, Margevicius definitely doesn’t fit the profile of the fireballing starter but instead relies on his control. Obviously, none of L.A.’s batters have faced Margevicius.
Unlike the other Dodger starters for the series, Maeda has taken his turn six times so far and pitched 32.2 innings six games. His wins have come against the Cincinnati Reds, Colorado Rockies, and Arizona Diamondbacks. Austin Hedges (.375/.500/.500/1.000) and Manuel Margot (.364/.333/.727/1.061) have hit well against Maeda.
By the time the Dodgers pack up to leave San Diego on Sunday, the Padres will have faced their most difficult challenge of the young season. The team’s performance so far has been surprisingly positive. Against the odds, will San Diego continue the trend?