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NL West preview: Dodgers and Padres not only are best in the West, but best in MLB

Dodgers players react to Padres third baseman Manny Machado, who expressed his displeasure with their celebration.
Dodgers players react to the Padres’ Manny Machado, who expressed his displeasure with their celebration after Cody Bellinger made a home run-saving catch during Game 2 of the NLDS on Oct. 7.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

A small taste of baseball’s most storied rivalry was enough for Dave Roberts to know it’s going to take a few more playoff showdowns, heated exchanges and irritating bat flips for the Dodgers and San Diego Padres to match the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox for feuding folklore.

“I just think that’s a ways down the road,” the Dodgers manager said when asked how his team’s burgeoning National League West rivalry with the Padres might compare with the century-old clash of Yankees versus Red Sox.

“When you’re talking about those types of rivalries, that’s more generational, and they’ve withstood the test of time. Right now, I think there’s more to a rivalry than just geography.”

Roberts, a speedy outfielder during his 10-year career, played only 45 games for the Red Sox, but he will always be revered in Boston for his ninth-inning stolen base in Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series, a daring dash that sparked a comeback from a three-games-to-none deficit to the Yankees.

The Red Sox went on to sweep St. Louis in the World Series, ending their 86-year championship drought and the so-called “Curse of the Bambino,” which dated to Boston’s 1920 sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees.

That season marked the third time in six years the Red Sox and Yankees met in the ALCS, rekindling a rivalry that may have peaked in 1978, when the Yankees erased Boston’s 14-game August lead and won a one-game playoff for the AL East title on Bucky Dent’s three-run homer over the Green Monster in Fenway Park.

Justin Turner heard the criticisms about his game while he was briefly on the free market, and he decided to do something about it by dropping weight.

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After playing bridesmaid to New York for eight decades — the Yankees won 26 World Series titles from 1922 to 2000, the Red Sox none — Boston gained the upper hand this century, winning four titles to New York’s one.

Like the Red Sox, the Padres are looking to turn the tables on the defending World Series champion Dodgers, who have won eight straight division titles and are 97-49 against San Diego in that span, including a three-game sweep of the Padres in last year’s NL Division Series.

San Diego gained ground in 2020, winning four of 10 from the Dodgers and playing them tough for two games of a division series that grew testy at times, with Padres star Manny Machado and Dodgers reliever Brusdar Graterol exchanging angry words and gestures after Dodgers center fielder Cody Bellinger’s home run-robbing catch in Game 2.

The Padres, who have not won a World Series in their 52-year history, made their title intentions clear by acquiring starting pitchers Blake Snell, Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove this winter and signing star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. to a 14-year, $340-million extension.

The Dodgers countered by signing 2020 NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer to a three-year, $102-million deal, bolstering what was already baseball’s best rotation.

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Trevor Bauer reaches out to catch the ball.
Trevor Bauer, the 2020 National League Cy Young Award winner, signed with the Dodgers during the offseason.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

“We think they’re a really talented team,” Andrew Friedman, Dodgers president of baseball operations, said of the Padres. “That being said, we’re pretty intrinsically motivated to be as good as we can be.”

The Dodgers, with a potent lineup led by Mookie Betts and reigning World Series and NLCS MVP Corey Seager, a dominant rotation and a deep and balanced bullpen, are positioned to become the first team to repeat as champions since 2000.

But the Padres, with nearly as much offensive firepower, a superb rotation and a trio of shutdown relievers, might be the second-best team in baseball behind the Dodgers.

What this Interstate-5 rivalry lacks in history, it could make up for in compelling theater. The teams developed a healthy disdain for each other last season and will meet 19 times this year, beginning with a three-game series in Petco Park on April 16-18 and ending with a three-game series in Dodger Stadium on Sept. 28-30.

“We’re going to get 19 World Series games this year,” Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner said of the Padres, “so it will be a good test for us, a good preparation to get ready for the playoffs.”

Yes, new Dodgers starter Trevor Bauer is obsessed with building his brand, but he’s also competitive and for now is getting along with his teammates.

Another postseason series between the teams would further fuel a budding rivalry that should continue to blossom throughout the decade.

“Yeah, I think it’ll be fun,” said Betts, who signed a 12-year, $365-million extension last year. “They’re going to be good for a long time, but we are too.”

National League West Predicted Order of Finish

DODGERS

2020 | 43-17, 1st in West

Last year in playoffs | 2020

The rotation is so loaded that one of the team’s three Cy Young Award winners — David Price — likely will open in the bullpen. The powerful lineup is so balanced that manager Dave Roberts can alternate right-handed and left-handed sluggers throughout the order most nights. The bullpen is plenty deep enough to absorb any Kenley Jansen struggles.

Lineup

RF Mookie Betts

SS Corey Seager

3B Justin Turner

1B Max Muncy

C Will Smith

CF Cody Bellinger

LF AJ Pollock

2B Gavin Lux

Rotation

LH Clayton Kershaw

RH Walker Buehler

RH Trevor Bauer

LH Julio Urías

RH Tony Gonsolin

Setup

RH Blake Treinen

Closer

RH Kenley Jansen

San Diego Padres' Fernando Tatis Jr. bats during a spring training baseball game
Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. signed a 14-year, $340-million extension during the offseason.
(Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press)

SAN DIEGO PADRES

2020 | 37-23, 2nd in West

Last year in playoffs | 2020

The winter acquisitions of Yu Darvish, 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell and Joe Musgrave eased the loss of injured starters Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet, and Drew Pomeranz, Emilio Pagan and Mark Melancon give the Padres three closer-quality relievers. A deep and balanced lineup features 25-homer threats Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado.

Lineup

CF Trent Grisham

SS Fernando Tatis Jr.

3B Manny Machado

1B Eric Hosmer

LF Tommy Pham

RF Wil Myers

2B Jake Cronenworth

C Victor Caratini

Rotation

RH Yu Darvish

LH Blake Snell

RH Joe Musgrave

RH Chris Paddack

LH Adrian Morejon

Setup

RH Emelio Pagan

Closer

LH Drew Pomeranz

Justin Turner tried pranking the Dodgers with the ‘I’m Busy’ challenge from TikTok. Some fell for it, some caught on and some didn’t care either way.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

2020 | 29-31, 3rd in West

Last year in playoffs | 2016

New pitcher Alex Wood (back) and holdover first baseman Brandon Belt (right-heel surgery, coronavirus) will open the season on the injured list. The addition of leadoff man Tommy La Stella, the toughest player to strike out in 2019 and 2020, and the return of veteran catcher Buster Posey, who opted out of the 2020 season, should boost the lineup.

Lineup

1B Tommy La Stella

RF Mike Yastrzemski

2B Donovan Solano

LF Alex Dickerson

C Buster Posey

3B Evan Longoria

SS Brandon Crawford

CF Mauricio Dubon

Rotation

RH Kevin Gausman

RH Johnny Cueto

RH Anthony DeSclafani

RH Logan Webb

RH Aaron Sanchez

Setup

RH Tyler Rogers

Closer

LH Jake McGee

As if the Mookie Betts trade weren’t enough, the Dodgers struck a deal with the famously Boston-flavored coffee chain.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

2020 | 25-35, 5th in West

Last year in playoffs | 2017

Zac Gallen’s availability to start the season was thrown into doubt when the right-hander suffered a forearm injury swinging a bat March 22. Right fielder Kole Calhoun is expected back from right-knee surgery in May. The Diamondbacks need a bounce-back year from Madison Bumgarner, who went 1-4 with a career-worst 6.48 ERA in nine starts in 2020.

Lineup

LF David Peralta

CF Ketel Marte

3B Eduardo Escobar

1B Christian Walker

2B Josh Rojas

C Carson Kelly

RF Tim Locastro

SS Nick Ahmed

Rotation

LH Madison Bumgarner

RH Zac Gallen

RH Merrill Kelly

LH Caleb Smith

RH Luke Weaver

Setup

RH Stefan Crichton

Closer

RH Joakim Soria

A billboard adjacent to Fenway Park mocks Boston and the Red Sox over the trade of Mookie Betts and celebrates the Dodgers’ 2020 World Series title.

COLORADO ROCKIES

2020 | 26-34, 4th in West

Last year in playoffs | 2018

There should be no shortage of power in the middle of a lineup featuring Trevor Story, Charlie Blackmon and former Angels slugger C.J. Cron, but the Rockies will be hard-pressed to contend with their thin rotation and bullpen and without Nolan Arenado, the popular third baseman and former franchise cornerstone who was traded to St. Louis.

Lineup

LF Raimel Tapia

2B Ryan McMahon

SS Trevor Story

RF Charlie Blackmon

1B C.J. Cron

CF Sam Hilliard

3B Josh Fuentes

C Elias Diaz

Rotation

RH German Marquez

LH Kyle Freeland

RH Jon Gray

LH Austin Gomber

RH Antonio Senzatela

Setup

RH Mychal Givens

Closer

RH Daniel Bard


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