The San Diego Padres head up the freeway to battle the Los Angeles Dodgers in a four-game series.
In early July, the Padres took three of four games from the Dodgers, the team with the best record in the National League West (71-39) and all of baseball. Instead of gaining momentum from that achievement, the Padres have floundered, losing five consecutive series and splitting a two-game series against the Baltimore Orioles, the team with the second-worst record in Major League Baseball.
Tuesday afternoon, in the second game against Baltimore, Fernando Tatis Jr. led off with a home run. One batter later, Manny Machado also went yard. Thanks to sloppy play by Orioles fielders, the Padres increased the lead to 4-0. In the end, however, the home team fell to the woeful O’s by a score of 8-5.
After the loss, players discovered that clubhouse and fan favorite, outfielder Franmil Reyes, had been traded to the Cleveland Indians for a minor leaguer. Padres players will have to put all that behind them and play their best baseball against a Dodger team focused on winning the World Series.
The Padres have the benefit of a day off, but the Dodgers will be returning home after a series against the Colorado Rockies in that hitters’ paradise known as Coors Field. On Wednesday, the Dodgers and Rockies played through an uncommon eight scoreless innings. In the ninth, the Dodgers finally got on the scoreboard and won the game 5-1.
Those series in Coors do take a toll on pitchers, especially relievers. Pedro Baez, Joe Kelly, JT Chargois, and closer Kenley Jansen pitched in the final three innings Wednesday, which may affect their availability, especially in the first game of the series against the Padres. In general, the bullpen has been a headache for manager Dave Roberts.
At the deadline, LA picked up lefty reliever Adam Kolarek to help address that weakness and also added injured utility man and former Padre Jedd Gyorko. Having experienced heartbreak in the last two World Series, Dodger fans expected organization President of Baseball Operations, Andrew Friedman, to go after a top reliever like Felipe Vazquez, the closer for the Pittsburgh Pirates. However, Friedman considered infielder and top prospect Gavin Lux too big an ask.
From their enviable perch, the Dodgers have few worries except injuries to key players. Indeed, LA has been bitten by the injury bug, as Ross Stripling joined fellow pitchers Scott Alexander and Rich Hill, as well as position players David Freese, Enrique Hernandez, and Chris Taylor on the IL.
The Dodgers have taken advantage of the versatility of their roster on defense. Fivethirtyeight.Com named the organization the most versatile in MLB. For instance, Cody Bellinger can play first, center, and left. However, Joc Pederson and Max Muncy, in particular, have recently struggled defensively as they’ve been moved around the diamond.
Bellinger leads the Dodgers in multiple offensive categories including batting average (.328), home runs (34), RBI (80), OBP (.429). Center fielder Alex Verdugo also has a healthy slash line of .295/.344/.479/.823.
The Padres may have benefited from an off day to recover from the disappointment of the loss to the Orioles, to say nothing of their recent track record. Eric Hosmer leads the Padres in batting average (.284), RBI (69) and total hits (118), while Hunter Renfroe leads in home runs (29) and Manny Machado in OBP (.348).
In his last start, Lucchesi gave up only two hits against the San Francisco Giants and struck out eight in a game the Padres ultimately lost 1-2. San Diego hasn’t won a game which Lucchesi started since the team beat LA 5-3 on July 7 in the team’s last winning series.
In his five career starts against the Dodgers, Lucchesi has a 1-3 record and 6.75 ERA. He has managed to contain Bellinger (five at-bats), but Muncy has a .429/.429/.857/1.286 batting line against Lucchesi in seven at-bats.
To say that Kershaw has owned the Padres (19-6, 2.00 ERA) would be an understatement. At 31, he has continued to adjust to his aging arm. In his latest start, Kershaw went six innings, giving up three hits and striking out nine in a 9-3 victory against the Washington Nationals on July 27.
In 20 innings against the Padres, batters have managed a .222 average against the lefty. Only Hosmer (.375/.400/.583/.983 in 24 plate appearances) and Machado (.444/.444/1.111/1.556 in nine plate appearances) have gotten to Kershaw.
Lauer made a surprise appearance out of the bullpen on Sunday in a 7-6 loss to the Giants. He last pitched against the Dodgers in the “earthquake game” on July 5. Lauer went six innings and held the Dodgers to one run. In his last start, he gave up four runs in the first inning against the New York Mets.
Against Lauer, the Dodgers have a cumulative .226/.284/.409/.693 batting line. Bellinger, of course, has been a pest (.364/.417/.545/.962), and Muncy and Pederson have also had some success.
The Dodgers didn’t make the big splash the fans longed for, but they did call up their top pitching prospect Dustin May. Gingergaard, as he’s been nicknamed, has been compared to the New York Mets Noah Syndergaard. He’s a 6-foot-6, 21-year-old right-hander.
Game 3: (Saturday, August 3 – 6:10 PM) TBA vs. TBA
Game 4: (Sunday, August 4 – 1:10 PM) Chris Paddack (7-5, 2.78 ERA, 0.90 WHIP) vs. TBA
In Chris Paddack’s first start against the Dodgers, he (and his defense) gave up six runs (three of them earned). In his second start on July 6, he shut the Dodgers down for 5 2/3 innings, and the Padres won 3-1.
The closest thing to an ace the Padres have had in years, Paddack blazed onto the big stage winning seven of his first nine starts. Then he hit a rough patch, and his ERA climbed from under 2 to 3.15 in mid-June. In a move to protect his valuable, surgically repaired arm, the Padres optioned Paddack to the minors.
When he returned he regained his form, pitching a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Miami Marlins on July 17. The Padres won his last start July 29 against Baltimore 8-1.
In 37 at-bats against Paddack, the Dodgers have only managed to hit .216/.275/.459/.734.
Players to Watch
Fernando Tatis Jr.
Tatis is always a player to watch, no matter the opponent. Against the Dodgers, he has batted .333/.375/.733/1.108. Although he’s been error-prone from time to time, he can also make plays few other shortstops manage. In a promising season turned disappointing, Tatis gives Padres fans hope as well as a reason to watch the games.
The former face of the franchise has fallen on hard times. Until recently he’d been stuck on the bench, but with the trade of Reyes, he will undoubtedly see much more playing time. The Padres desperately want to move his contract, which balloons next year. But he still has two months to try to recapture past glory. He cannot do that or increase his trade value by riding the pine.
The Dodgers rented Machado last year in their playoff push. When he returned to Dodger Stadium this year, he got booed just as he does in every opponent’s venue. Against LA, he’s gone 9-for-34 with four home runs, and eight RBIs.
What more can be said about Bellinger? He’s versatile on defense and a force to be reckoned with at the plate. He has hit especially well off Lauer (.364/.417/.545/962).
Kershaw has been a thorn in the side of the Padres since he first toed the mound. This year he’s held Padre hitters to a .222 average.
The Dodgers’ problematic bullpen has taken center stage in the last two World Series, and the Padres must take advantage of this obvious weakness. Closer Jansen has a 6.35 ERA against San Diego.