The San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers are set to battle in the 2020 NLDS.
In the San Diego Padres’ first foray into postseason play since 2006, they defeated the St. Louis Cardinals, which dispatched them handily in 2006 and 2005. For the Padres, the victory over the Cardinals, the team that won all but one game in the playoffs in 2005 and 2006, proves that a new era has arrived.
But now the Padres move on to face a far more formidable foe in the Los Angeles Dodgers. It should come as no surprise that the odds, according to ESPN’s Bradford Doolittle, give L.A. a 62.9 percent chance of winning the National League Division Series.
After all, the Dodgers have owned the Padres for years. However, this San Diego team bears no resemblance to the pushovers of the past who managed only one winning season over the past 13 against the Dodgers. L.A. has won the National League West eight years in a row while compiling a 97-49 record against the Padres and has an overall .717 winning percentage and 136.0 run differential in 2020. Although no match for the Dodgers, the Padres’ run differential of 87.0 shows a vast improvement over 2019’s -107.0.
In a normal year, the Dodgers’ 43-17 record would translate to 116 wins. Despite their domination over the division and their appearance in the World Series in two of the last three seasons, L.A. has failed to bring home their first trophy since 1988. That failure undoubtedly feeds their hunger to win it all and ups the ante in the series against the Padres.
Meanwhile, in San Diego, the excitement and anticipation turned to dread when their top two starting pitchers Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet, went down with injuries late in the regular season. However, on Monday in the early evening, Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune wrote that either Clevinger or Chris Paddack could start the first game of the series. When the playoff roster was posted, Clevinger was indeed on it. His presence alone should give the Padres a huge boost.
Clevinger last pitched September 23 but completed only one inning. Diagnosed with a posterior elbow impingement, he received a shot of cortisone. Just two days after Clevinger’s early exit, Lamet experienced tightness in his bicep and/or elbow and was examined by Dr. Keith Meister.
The injuries to Clevinger and Lamet couldn’t have come at a worse time. And their fellow starters, Chris Paddack and Zach Davies, didn’t last long against St. Louis throwing just six innings over the three games. Instead, 78 percent of the teams’ innings came on the arms of relief pitchers, eight in Game 1 and nine in Games 2 and 3. Despite the odds against them, the Padres did prevail.
However, that formula becomes even dicier in a five-game series played on consecutive days. The Padres desperately need the best from Chris Paddack (4-5, 4.73 ERA 2020, 4-5, 3.33 ERA 2019) and Zach Davies (7-4, 2.73 ERA 2020). Last year’s World Champion Washington Nationals demonstrated the importance of dominant starting pitching. Stephen Strasburg, who played for Tony Gwynn at San Diego State University, took home the World Series MVP trophy.
Globe Life Field in Arlington–home of the Texas Rangers and the birthplace of “Slam Diego”—will host the series. The Padres certainly seemed comfortable in Globe Life on August 17 when the team rebounded from a five-game losing streak and soundly defeated the Rangers 14-4. The Padres won the second game 6-4 and continued their winning ways with a 28-16 record through the rest of the truncated season.
The Dodgers have not been free on the injury bug either as pitchers Walker Buehler and Joe Kelly and Joe Kelly recently returned from the Injured List as did third baseman Justin Turner. Also, the team lost reliever Caleb Ferguson to Tommy John surgery.
L.A.’s ace Clayton Kershaw has struggled in the past in the offseason, and his playoff 4.22 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in no way matches his career 2.43 ERA. But he may have finally bested that barrier this year. In Game 2 of the National League Wild Card Series, Kershaw pitched eight innings with 13 strikeouts and one walk in a victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.
Buehler started the first Wild Card game for the Dodgers, throwing four innings and giving up three hits and two runs against the Milwaukee Brewers. Since returning from the IL with a blister on his right index finger, he has given up a total of four runs in his last 15 2/3 innings. He will start Game 1 of the Division Series as well.
Measured by Baseball Reference’s Wins Above Average and according to position, neither team has an overwhelming advantage.
Catcher LAD 1.2 2nd SD -0.9 27th
First Base SD 0.4 9th LA-0.3 17th
Second Base LA 1.0 4th SD 0.7 6th
Third Base SD 2.2 1st LA 0.5 11th
Shortstop SD 2.0 2nd LA 1.3 4th
Left Field LA 0.1 12th SD -0.3 19th
Center Field SD 1.3 2nd LA 0.7 11th
Right Field LA 1.6 first SD 0.7 10th
In a matchup of the top position players, according to FanGraphs WAR, the Padres actually have a slight edge.
RF Mookie Betts 3.0
SS Corey Seager 1.9
UT Chris Taylor 1.5
3B Justin Turner 1.3
C Will Smith 1.3
CF Cody Bellinger 1.2
SS Fernando Tatis Jr. 3.0
3B Manny Machado 2.6
OF Trent Grisham 2.3
OF Wil Myers 1.8
2B Jake Cronenworth 1.5
Likewise, comparing relief pitchers gives neither the edge:
LA LHP Jake McGee 0.7
LHP Victor Gonzalez 0.6
RHP Dylan Floro 0.5
RHP Kenley Jansen 0.5
RHP Blake Treinen 0.5
LHP Drew Pomeranz 0.8
RHP Trevor Rosenthal 0.4
RHP Pierce Johnson 0.3
RHP Craig Stammen 0.3
RHP Dan Altavilla 0.2
In his first year with the Dodgers, Mookie Betts has had his way with Padres’ pitchers, batting .429/.484/.786 in 31 plate appearances. But, San Diego has its own stars these days in Tatis and Machado.
Making it to the playoffs for the first time in 14 years is an achievement in itself. However, these San Diego Padres won’t be satisfied with just one series’ victory. In 2020, a weird year to be sure, just about anything can happen.