Dodgers are surging. Padres are slumping. But ‘a battle’ is still expected this week
When we last left baseball’s Interstate-5 rivalry, the San Diego Padres had completed a three-game sweep of the Dodgers to move to within a half-game of second place on June 23, and Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer had ripped his own team, saying the Padres “absolutely kicked our ass from an intensity standpoint.”
Much has changed since.
Bauer, for starters, has been on paid administrative leave since July 2 while Major League Baseball and the Pasadena Police Department investigate a domestic violence allegation against the right-hander, whose career is in jeopardy after signing a three-year, $102-million deal last winter.
After the Athletic reported on July 29 that the Padres were “close to acquiring” Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer, it was the Dodgers who swung a blockbuster deal for the three-time Cy Young Award winner and All-Star shortstop Trea Turner the next day.
And the Padres and Dodgers, who open a three-game series in Petco Park on Tuesday night, are no longer separated by a half-game in the National League West.
The defending World Series-champion Dodgers went on a tear in late July, winning 16 of 20 games to improve to 78-47 and remain within striking distance in the division, 2½ games behind the San Francisco Giants with 37 games left.
Cody Bellinger hesitated trying to steal second and was caught, shutting down a potential game-changing scoring sequence in the Dodgers’ loss to the Mets.
The Padres were 4½ games back on July 23 but lost 16 of their next 26 games, including a current two-week nosedive in which they’ve lost nine of 11 — seven to lowly Miami, Arizona and Colorado — to fall to 68-58, 13 games behind the Giants and one game behind Cincinnati for the second wild-card spot.
“I know that throughout many major league seasons, things go right and things go wrong, you go in slumps and you get hot,” Padres reliever Craig Stammen said after Sunday’s 7-4 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies. “And we’re in a slump at what seems like the worst time imaginable.”
As with the Dodgers, the Padres’ rotation has been ravaged by injuries — Yu Darvish, Chris Paddack and Dinelson Lamet — and a heavy reliance on “bullpen games” has stressed their deep relief corps.
Of those left in the rotation, Blake Snell has been inconsistent and unable to pitch deep into games, Joe Musgrove has suffered from a lack of run support — San Diego was no-hit by Arizona’s Tyler Gilbert in Musgrove’s Aug. 14 start — and rookie Ryan Weathers has withered down the stretch.
Weathers, a 21-year-old left-hander, was 4-2 with a 2.73 ERA in his first 18 games, 12 of them starts. He is 0-4 with a 14.26 ERA in five games, four of them starts, since July 30.
Darvish is expected to be activated for Thursday’s series finale, but his imminent return couldn’t save the job of veteran pitching coach Larry Rothschild, who was fired Monday. Ben Fritz will serve as interim pitching coach for the remainder of the season.
NL most valuable player candidate Fernando Tatis Jr. returned from a partial left-shoulder dislocation on Aug. 15 and was moved from shortstop to the outfield to reduce wear and tear on his body.
But after his four-hit, two-homer, four-RBI game on Aug. 15, Tatis is three for 22 (.136) with one homer and two RBIs in six games, his struggles contributing to a sporadic offense.
“I think the key is to master ourselves, and right now we’re not playing that best version of our game on a couple ends,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said. “But we’re going to continue to be upbeat, continue to battle. Nobody’s going to feel bad for us. You just continue to fight as a group, and it’s going to turn.”
Perhaps a visit from one of the hottest teams in baseball will help. The Padres have won seven of 10 games, including that three-game sweep two months ago, against the Dodgers this season.
The Dodgers won the first game between the teams in 12 innings on April 16. Three of the four games in Dodger Stadium from April 22-25 were decided by one run. The scores of San Diego’s three-game sweep in June were 6-2, 3-2 and 5-3.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts says the team still has time to catch the Giants, adding “our fate is still in our own hands.”
“Every game we’ve played against the Dodgers so far has been a battle either way, and for whatever reason, that’s brought the best out of us,” Tingler said. “So that’s what we’re going to be shooting for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.”
The Dodgers are focused more on the Giants than the Padres. If they can overtake San Francisco and win their ninth straight division title, they would avoid a win-or-go-home NL wild-card game.
They’re expected to move closer to full strength this week when left-hander Julio Urías (left-calf bruise) returns to the rotation Tuesday and Mookie Betts (bone spur in right hip) returns to right field Thursday.
“I’ve watched those guys from afar, and they’re in fight mode, just like we are,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of the Padres. “I think they’ve got the best of us this year, so we have to play good baseball to beat them.”
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