Dodgers vs. Padres roundtable: Did 2022 NLDS signal a power shift in NL West?
The Dodgers and Padres will meet for the first time this season when the teams play a three-game series beginning Friday in San Diego.
It was at Petco Park, of course, where the Dodgers’ 2022 season came to a shocking end with a four-game loss to the Padres in a National League Division Series.
The Dodgers entered the postseason as the heavy World Series favorites after winning a franchise-record 111 games, including 14 of 19 against the Padres, who finished 22 games back in the National League West. But after taking Game 1 at Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers lost three in a row — the last two in San Diego — to suffer one of the biggest playoff disappointments in their history.
Conversely, the series' win was one of the biggest in Padres' history. The headline on the sports cover of the San Diego Union-Tribune read simply: DRAGON SLAYERS!
In a roundtable discussion moderated by Times baseball editor Hans Tesselaar, Times reporters Jack Harris, Jorge Castillo, Mike DiGiovanna and Bill Shaikin join Kevin Acee, Padres beat reporter for the Union-Tribune, to discuss the upcoming series and all other things Dodgers and Padres.
The Dodgers won all six regular-season series against the Padres last season, but the Padres won the one that mattered the most. What carryover, if any, should we expect from that NLDS?
Harris: From the Dodgers' side, not much. Many of the key players from that series left this offseason. And the ones who remain have downplayed the significance of any one regular-season series. They know they didn’t show up last October. And they know the Padres represent their chief competition in the division this year.
But rather than dwell on last year’s postseason series, they’re entering this weekend in the process of figuring out their new identity, and trying to capitalize on the momentum of their six-game winning streak.
Acee: The Padres finally know — really know — they can beat the Dodgers. There is no denying that was big for them. They still must hit against Clayton Kershaw, Dustin May and Julio Urías this weekend.
Shaikin: The carryover will be in the stands. Petco Park came alive in the NLDS — after the Padres blocked Dodgers fans from buying tickets — and the residual excitement carried over so much that the Padres have run out of season tickets to sell. "Beat L.A." has never sounded so loud.
For the players? It's the first week in May, with two games separating the teams and five months to go.
Castillo: It’ll be difficult to quantify if there is any carryover. This was already a budding rivalry before the NLDS. The teams already disliked each other. The atmosphere for these games was already different. Sure, we’ll see more intensity and better crowds than your average May game, but that was going to happen even without that October matchup. This rivalry has been brewing for a few years now. The Padres’ upset — and their ensuing offseason spending spree — just added more spice to it.
One thing I wonder about that could change the dynamics this season: The Dodgers, for the most part, have been reluctant to publicly acknowledge the Padres as a real rival. Has that changed?
Juan Soto said a few weeks ago: “We don't worry about [the Dodgers]. They should be worrying about us." Is he right?
DiGiovanna: Yes. While the Dodgers have had their share of injuries and paternity-list absences, they’ve played closer to their potential than the Padres, who are still integrating Fernando Tatis Jr. back into the lineup, Joe Musgrove back into the rotation and should get much more production out of Manny Machado than they did in the first month. The bullpen will also get a huge boost when setup man Robert Suarez returns from an elbow injury.
Harris: In one sense, yes. The Padres are the biggest threat to the Dodgers' NL West crown. And they proved that, if the teams were to meet in the postseason again this October, they have more than enough firepower to compete.
That said, the Padres also struggled mightily against the Dodgers in the regular season. They had to traverse a tougher postseason path because of it. And assuming they don’t want to do so again in 2023, these matchups should be equally important for both teams as they jockey at the top of the division standings.
Acee: If Soto continues hitting as he has the past week (.450/.621/.800) and not as he did most of the first month (.178/.339/.344) then that is a far more plausible claim. The Padres do seem to have the better players at many positions, which was almost comically not the case for the last decade-plus.
Castillo: Based on how the first month went, the Padres should be worried about every team they face. And the same goes for the Dodgers. Neither club is going to run away with this division. They need every win they can manage. These games this weekend in San Diego mean more than most because one win is a full-game swing in the NL West standings against the other expected contender. That’s why the Dodgers have lined up their three best pitchers — Kershaw, May and Urías — to start in San Diego. They know one game could be the difference for the division title. That’s all these teams should be worried about.
Shaikin: As of Thursday, Fangraphs gave the Dodgers a 50% chance of winning the National League West and the Padres a 38% chance. What I can't figure out is how Fangraphs gave the Giants a 7% chance (Baseball Prospectus gives the Giants a 1% chance, which seems more realistic).
Neither team had a memorable April, the Dodgers ending the month at 16-13, the Padres at 15-14. But both teams seem to have found their footing, the Dodgers having won six in a row and 10 of their last 13 and the Padres having won nine of 13. What's your brief analysis of both teams?
Harris: For the Dodgers, it’s been pitching and offensive consistency. The bullpen was a mess early on, though they’ve recently restructured their late-game plans around Evan Phillips, Brusdar Graterol and Caleb Ferguson. The offense had been very feast or famine, though it has benefited recently from getting its biggest stars back at full strength.
Acee: The Padres played mostly excellent defense and pitched pretty well. Their 13-14 record on April 27 was easily explained. Through that date, they ranked 29th in batting average, 24th in on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 29th in batting average with runners in scoring position and 27th in runs per game. Soto’s numbers are referenced above, Machado is still hitting just .235/.281/.378 and Tatis Jr.’s season did not begin until April 20.
Shaikin: For the Dodgers, I turn to this succinct recitation of ills, from Times columnist Dylan Hernandez: "Their lineup is top-heavy. Their infield defense borders on awful. Their bullpen is unreliable. Their starting pitching has major gaps." Imagine what he would say if the Dodgers weren't leading the National League in runs scored, leading the NL West in earned-run average, and weren't in first place!
The Padres have a top-heavy lineup, too, although the early performance doesn't show that. Xander Bogaerts has been great, but Machado and Tatis Jr. each have a lower on-base percentage than ex-Padres C.J. Abrams and Jurickson Profar, and Soto is getting outslugged by Trent Grisham.
Castillo: The Padres have more elite talent. The Dodgers have better depth. For that reason, the Padres, on paper, are better built for the postseason and the Dodgers, on paper, are better built for the regular season. We saw a version of that last year. The Dodgers were significantly deeper than San Diego ... but the Padres stars stepped up in a short series. This year, the Padres have more star power for the regular season — Soto and Josh Hader for a full season plus Tatis Jr. back from suspension and Bogaerts via free agency — and the Dodgers aren’t as deep (for now). That should make the division race tighter.
Despite their mediocre Aprils, they’re both right there in the National League West. Should we expect the Dodgers (19-13) and Padres (17-15) to separate from the rest of the division, or will the Arizona Diamondbacks (17-14) continue to be a factor all season?
DiGiovanna: The Diamondbacks are fun to watch — especially the way their speedsters run the bases — they have a Cy Young Award candidate in Zac Gallen and a deep and balanced bullpen, but they don’t have the offensive firepower or rotation depth to keep up with the Dodgers and Padres, who should pull away from the rest of the division by July or August.
Acee: As impressive as the Diamondbacks are in many ways — exciting on the bases, a lot of tough outs at the plate, good outfield defense — it is difficult to find anyone in the game who thinks they have the pitching to keep pace the entire season.
Harris: The Dodgers and Padres have vastly more talent and experience. If one of them doesn’t win the division, it’d be a major shock. The Diamondbacks, though, could hang around, fielding a young and athletic roster well suited to MLB’s new small-ball-friendly rules (not to mention having an early Cy Young Award contender in Gallen).
Shaikin: The Diamondbacks can hit, and they can definitely run, enabling them to take advantage of the new MLB rules in a way the Dodgers cannot. But the Diamondbacks do not yet have the starting pitching depth to last an entire season atop the division. They made the right call in cutting Madison Bumgarner, and Gallen is as good a starter as there is in the league, but the Diamondbacks' starters have a collective 5.17 ERA. An injury to Gallen or Merrill Kelly could send Arizona spiraling in a hurry.
Castillo: This division will come down to the Dodgers and Padres. The Diamondbacks will hang around for a wild-card spot but not for the division title.
In years past, Petco Park often became Dodger Stadium South because of the influx of Dodgers fans. The Padres cut off the sale of season seats for 2023 because of the tremendous fan interest. So what’s the crowd breakdown going to be like this weekend?
Harris: I’d expect a lot of Dodgers fans to make the trip. Many factions of the fan base were upset about the ticket restrictions last year, and the Padres series were already among those circled most on the schedule when it was released. I doubt they’ll take over the stadium like they used to when the Padres were struggling, but there will surely be pockets of blue throughout the series.
Acee: The way Padres fans showed up in the NLDS far exceeded even the team’s expectations, and a precedent was set for Petco Park to actually feel like a clear home environment against the Dodgers. This being May rather than the postseason, it should be expected that more season-ticket holders unload their tickets. Most games the past two seasons, however, have been closer to an even split between those in brown and those in blue — with slightly more Padres fans.
Castillo: Dodgers fans are going to show up as they always do, but they’ll be outnumbered by a good margin. Padres fans have come out in full force this season. This weekend — with their rivals in town — shouldn’t be any different.
How many wins is it going to take to a) win the National League West and b) earn a wild card?
Harris: Ninety-six wins feels like a good number to win the NL West (which is about the pace the first-place Dodgers are currently on). As far as the wild card, it’s tough to tell this early, though last year’s mark of 87 wins feels like a safe bet again.
Acee: The way the season is going so far, it feels like somewhere in the mid-90s will win the division and the mid-80s could at least get the final wild-card spot. But the season can’t keep going like this, can it?
Shaikin: In the last three nonpandemic seasons, the NL West was won with 111, 107 and 106 victories. I'll take 92 this time, and 87 for a wild card.
Castillo: Ninety-three for division, 89 for wild card.
DiGiovanna: I think it will take 97-98 wins to win the division and 91-92 wins to earn a wild-card berth.
OK, it’s Oct. 1 and the regular season is over. Who is your NL West champ?
Harris: I’m giving the Padres a slight edge. When the Dodgers have all their pieces, they’re tough to beat. But it’s difficult envisioning the top of their lineup and rotation staying healthy. The Padres have pitfalls of their own, but (maybe for the first time) seemingly more star power to compensate for such deficiencies. It will be close, and I still expect both to make the playoffs, but it feels like the Padres will kick into top gear eventually.
DiGiovanna: The Padres. Their lineup is deeper and more explosive throughout than the top-heavy Dodgers.The back of their bullpen, especially when Suarez rejoins lock-down closer Hader, looks more reliable. And they will benefit from the confidence they gained during last October’s run to the NL Championship Series.
Acee: Who cares? If memory serves, there was a team last year that won 111 games in the regular season and got bounced in its first postseason series.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.