The Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres played 30 innings of baseball over the weekend and were separated by two runs or fewer in all but three of them. Friday’s game spanned 12 innings and consisted of 17 pitchers and four ties. Saturday’s game ended on a Mookie Betts diving catch with the tying run in scoring position. Sunday’s game wasn’t decided until the bottom of the eighth. The Dodgers won 2 of 3, but the Padres took the series finale to snap their seven-game losing streak against them.
The Dodgers, winners of eight straight before Sunday, possess a major league-best 13-3 record, 3½ games better than the Padres in the National League West. But the teams will meet again in four days for the start of a four-game series at Dodger Stadium.
“It’s a good preview for many more to come — both teams playing with a ton of energy, playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said. “There’s a ton of emotion, it’s great drawing off the fans’ energy, and just the back-and-forth battles. I know for the guys out there playing, it’s really easy to get up and get going. There’s a ton of adrenaline in the stadium, and you’re almost forced to be locked in.”
Below is a look at what we can take away from an opening series that somehow exceeded the hype coming in.
Close games galore: Trevor Bauer pounded his chest and roared as he made his way back into the Dodgers’ dugout at the end of the sixth inning Sunday. He had just blown a 97 mph fastball past Fernando Tatis Jr., punctuating another stellar outing that lowered his ERA to 2.42 and raised his strikeout total to an NL-leading 36. The six starting pitchers in this series — Bauer, Blake Snell, Clayton Kershaw, Yu Darvish, Walker Buehler and Ryan Weathers — combined for a 1.60 ERA over the weekend, which isn’t much of a surprise. These might be the two best starting rotations in baseball. That means we’ll probably continue to get these close, intense games throughout the year.
If Snell matches up with Bauer again, he has a request.
“Bauer, he be digging in that mound a lot,” Snell said. “Oh my god. It looked like something just crashed on top of the mound. It was just the biggest hole. So Bauer, we gotta work on that. I know you gotta get grip on the mound or whatever, but man, my foot was killing me.”
Machado still owns Bauer: It’s a running joke that has gained prominence and is now flat-out ridiculous — Bauer can’t get Manny Machado out. No, seriously. Machado came in batting .588/.667/1.412 in 21 career plate appearances against Bauer, then smacked two singles against him that traveled 104-plus mph. Bauer had a full count against Machado in the fourth, then shook off Will Smith and threw an up-and-in fastball that was smoked past the glove of Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner. Machado has nine hits in 12 at-bats that have finished with a Bauer fastball, five of them for extra bases. It was a funny quirk before. Now, within the context of this rivalry, it’s a problem.
“I kept him in the park,” he said, “so I’m going in the right direction.”
Tatis still figuring it out: The start of this series coincided with Tatis’ return from a shoulder subluxation. By the end of it, it was clear Tatis still is not quite right. The question is whether these are the usual struggles that befall players over the course of a long season and are only magnified at the start, or if that tender left shoulder is truly affecting his production. Tatis hit a 410-foot home run to straightaway center field on Friday, but otherwise he was 0-for-12 with six strikeouts and a walk. He added two errors on Friday — giving him seven through his first six games — and would have had another on Sunday if not for a nice pick by Eric Hosmer at first base.
Tatis also worked a walk, hit a hard line drive and seemingly just got under a potential home run on a hanging breaking ball in the series finale. Prior to Saturday’s game, Tatis downplayed the severity of his shoulder issue and expressed confidence in his ability to manage it over the next six months.
“That’s a thing I can manage very well,” Tatis said. “I think that’s not gonna be something that’s gonna be bothering me for the rest of the year.”
Clayton Kershaw believes Jurickson Profar intentionally tries to get a catcher’s interference call and the two get into a screaming match across the field.
No love lost: You know it’s heated when Kershaw curses. On Saturday, Kershaw took exception with the way Jurickson Profar swung late on a two-strike fastball, making contact with Austin Barnes’ glove and being placed on first base because of catcher’s interference. “That’s a bulls— swing!” Kershaw yelled as he and Profar hollered back and forth across the field. One night earlier, Dennis Santana and Jorge Mateo got into it on a 10th-inning hit by pitch, causing both benches to empty. Sunday didn’t provide any further animosity, but it was primed for fireworks nonetheless. There will be more of the same this season. Count on that.
Hosmer coming up big: Perhaps the Padres’ most encouraging sign last year came in the form of Eric Hosmer, who batted .287/.333/.517 and looked a lot more like the elite first baseman from his Kansas City Royals days. The early part of this season is showing that those 2020 numbers might not be the result of small sample sizes. Hosmer carries a .986 OPS through his first 68 plate appearances this season. On Friday, he hit a two-out, game-tying single in the ninth. On Sunday, he hit the two-out, game-winning single in the eighth.
“Hos is, in my opinion, as good as anybody in the game at those moments,” Tingler said, “and I think a big part of it is he wants those at-bats, he wants those moments when the game’s on the line and things like that. He’s as good as anybody in the game at delivering those.”
Padres have to clean it up: The Padres could have won Friday’s game if not for three errors, which bumped their major league-leading total to 16. Saturday’s game could have been entirely different had Trent Grisham properly read the defense behind him on Machado’s sixth-inning single, which would have allowed him to score from second as opposed to advancing only one base. The margin for error against the Dodgers is too small to make mistakes like that.
“We just understand we have to play great baseball against these guys,” Hosmer said. “We can’t afford to give up mistakes, we can’t afford to give them extra bases. We just gotta lock in ourselves, defensively, on the basepaths. We have to make sure we’re playing good baseball. That’s what this series definitely proved; I think they proved that in the playoffs, as well. We know we have to be on top of our game to beat those guys.”
A necessary edge: The Dodgers spent the offseason motivated by a desire to not get stale coming off a championship, a driving factor in their surprising effort to sign Bauer. In spring training, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts constantly preached the importance of remaining in the moment and maintaining an edge throughout a season that can often feel monotonous, particularly for such highly accomplished teams. The Dodgers, pacing the sport with a plus-38 run differential, clearly haven’t had any problems remaining focused in the early going. But the Padres’ presence might only help them throughout the summer. L.A. is on a 132-win pace, and somehow reality doesn’t feel very far from that.
Roberts dismissed the Padres’ presence as a motivating factor, consistent with the Dodgers’ clear intent to downplay this rivalry. But he admitted that the Padres are “a hungry group.”
“I think they’ve looked at us and want to kind of take us down in the National League West, and they’re talented, they can pitch,” Roberts said. “Lot of talent over there.”