'Bring it on': Padres ready for huge series against division rival Dodgers, who have owned the NL West

·7 min read

PHOENIX – The San Diego Padres haven’t had their All-Star shortstop for a single inning this season.

Their MVP candidate hasn’t played in 10 days.

They are playing with a short bench and have offensive holes at three different positions.

Still, there was music blaring in the visitor’s clubhouse Wednesday afternoon after their 4-0 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks, laughter that was even louder, and even faced with playing the next four days against the mighty Los Angeles Dodgers at home, the boys in brown were almost giddy.

Scared? Apprehensive? Concerned?

The Dodgers have ruled the National League West for years.

Now, going to Dodger Stadium on Thursday for the first time this season to begin a four-game series, the Padres can’t wait to show what a difference a year can make.

No Fernando Tatis Jr.? No problem.

No Manny Machado? No biggie.

No manager for 20 games? No worries.

Precious little offense coming from the outfield, first base and DH positions? No fear.

The Padres, 46-31, are rolling into town with the third-best record in the National League, just 1 ½ games behind the Dodgers in the NL West.

“Our confidence is sky-high, the highest since I’ve been here,’’ says Machado, who hopes to be in the lineup this weekend after being out with a badly sprained ankle. “It’s just different now. A big part of it is the coaching staff we have, and [manager] Bob [Melvin] is the key to that. He gives us the confidence that we’ll go out there and win every day.

“We’ll know we’ll be there. We’ll be there to the end. Let other teams do the talking.’’

It would have been easy, if not natural, for the Padres to sit around and feel sorry for themselves the moment they heard this spring that Tatis broke his wrist in a motorcycle accident. Tatis originally was hoping to be back by early June, but the latest bone scan this week revealed that he likely will need at least two more week before he can even go on a rehab assignment. If he returns before Aug. 1, the Padres will be elated.

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Manny Machado signed a 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres prior to the 2019 season.
Manny Machado signed a 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres prior to the 2019 season.

“Obviously, Tatis is an absolute game-changer,’’ Padres closer Taylor Rogers says, “but I don’t think anybody thought we wouldn’t be doing what we were doing. It was never like, 'Hey, just roll with the punches until Tatis gets back.’

“We were always expecting to win, and when he gets back, we’ll be that much better.’’

The Padres are suffocating the life out of teams’ offenses with their starting rotation, led by Cy Young candidate Joe Musgrove. They have seven legitimate starters, going with a current six-man rotation that has produced a major-league leading 41 quality starts, keeping everyone fresh.

“Our starters are going out there seven-plus [innings] almost every time,’’ says Musgrove, 8-1, 2.12 ERA, who leads the major leagues with 12 quality starts. “At the end of the year, I think you’re going to really see it pay off. Our bullpen guys should be fresh at the end of the year.’’

Just ask starter Mike Clevinger, who gave up one hit and pitched six shutout innings Wednesday in his longest outing since recovering from 2020 Tommy John elbow surgery.

“I think the extra day is huge,’’ says Clevinger. “Anyone in this clubhouse can tell you the dividends it has paid in our recovery.’’

While the Dodgers have long been the king of the NL West, the Padres believe that they now have the deepest and most talented rotation. Musgrove is their Cy Young candidate, but there’s little drop-off with Yu Darvish, Sean Manaea, to go along with Clevinger, Snell, MacKenzie Gore and Nick Martinez.

They’ve needed their starters to carry the team with an offense that’s missing a whole lot of horsepower. Tatis has missed every game. Machado has been out the past 10 games without going on the injured list, leaving the Padres playing a man short. Outfielder Wil Myers has been out a month, and has just one homer in the 32 games he has played. First baseman/DH Luke Voit has missed 20 games with a career-low .425 slugging percentage. And first baseman Eric Hosmer is hitting just struggling .207 with a .589 OPS in June after his sizzling April (.389 with a 1.059 OPS)

“What we’re doing with what we have available to us right now,’’ Musgrove says, “is better than what most people expected. We have a lot of guys out of the lineup that make us a high-powered team.

“Once we get our team fully back and healthy, I think you’ll see a different caliber of offense, a different caliber team all around.’’

Who knows, perhaps a legitimate World Series contender with Melvin, who missed 20 games with COVID-19 and prostate surgery, reminding them every day there is no limit to their success.

“I remember my first day on the team,’’ says Rogers, who was traded on the eve of opening day from the Minnesota Twins. “I had thrown a longer bullpen the day before because the Twins were starting a day late. Well, Bob comes over and says, 'We’re going to have you down [unavailable] today.' I said, 'Well, I guess I’m the only guy on opening day to be down.'

“But his words were, and I’ll never forget them, 'We need you in October! Not April!'

“He was already looking ahead to the postseason.’’

It has been 16 years since the Padres won the NL West, and 431 days since the Padres have won a game at Dodger Stadium, but the Padres believe times are changin’.

This could finally be the year they kick sand in the bully’s face up north.

“I certainly think that rivalries are created in October,’’ says Hosmer, “but we feel like we can compete with those guys. We have the group, we have the talent, we have the camaraderie that we can compete with those guys. It’s on us to punch our ticket in October and hopefully get a crack at those guys.’’

Joe Musgrove and Manny Machado during a game in Milwaukee.
Joe Musgrove and Manny Machado during a game in Milwaukee.

It’s hard to believe, says injured Padres reliever Drew Pomeranz, how times have changed since he left in 2016 only to return, and find himself in a rivalry that’s about to be list.

“It’s crazy what has happened,’’ Pomeranz says. “The atmosphere is unbelievable now.’’

The Padres, just like the Dodgers, realize they have flaws. They may need to part with one of their starters to get offensive help at the trade deadline.

This is a team that not only is built for the future, but to win right now, believing this is finally their time.

“Last year when we won the first seven of 10 games against them,’’ Padres veteran reliever Craig Stammen says, “we thought we kind of had their number. That obviously changed.

“What we have to do now is beat them in September. If we don’t beat them in September, or at the end of the year, or in the playoffs, it really doesn’t matter.’’

Maye this weekend is just the appetizer, but it’s a chance for the Padres to make a statement, showing the Dodgers they’re ready for prime time, and making sure that this September is a pennant race to remember.

“It’s going to get real,’’ Snell says. “I can’t wait. Going to LA, I know those fans will bring it. I love it.

“Come on, bring it on!’’

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Padres vs. Dodgers: San Diego says 'bring it on' to NL West rival