‘We’ve got a good test.’ Dodgers to start Julio Urías in Game 1, expect a tough NLDS
It just wasn’t the sole center of attention.
After an 111-win season in which they exacted their superiority over almost every other team in the league, the Dodgers insisted they weren’t too caught up in who their first postseason opponent would be.
That didn’t change on Sunday night, when the San Diego Padres knocked off the New York Mets to set up an NL West clash against the Dodgers in this week’s best-of-five NLDS.
“We had it on,” first baseman Freddie Freeman said of the Padres-Mets winner-take-all wild card series finale. But, he added, “It was quiet. Everyone was just kind of hanging out having a good time.”
The Dodgers and San Diego Padres will meet in the National League Division Series. Here are nine things the Dodgers will need to be wary of in the series.
That will change on Tuesday night, when the Dodgers and Padres open their series at Dodger Stadium.
Julio Urías will start for the Dodgers, getting the Game 1 nod over Clayton Kershaw after the team had deliberated between the two. Mike Clevinger will go for the Padres, who had to turn to their No. 4 starter after exhausting the top of their rotation during their three-game duel in New York this weekend.
From the outside, the Padres seemed like the preferable matchup for the Dodgers all along.
The Padres won only 89 games this year, compared to the Mets’ 101. The Dodgers lost their regular-season series against the Mets, as well, a very different fate than their one-sided 14-5 mark against the Padres, which included winning all six series between the teams.
“I don’t know that there’s a rhyme or reason for why we played so well [against the Padres],” Freeman said. “But it needs to continue tomorrow.”
Alas, the Dodgers continued to sound more concerned about themselves during a workout day at Dodger Stadium on Monday.
While their Game 1 pitching choice is settled, last-minute roster decisions still remain in the bullpen and on the bench. They still have to knock off the rust of the five-day layoff they’ve had since the end of the regular season. And they still have to handle the pressure that comes with being the top overall playoff seed.
“The regular season has no bearing on the postseason,” manager Dave Roberts said when asked about the Dodgers regular-season dominance of the Padres. “It’s the best of five. So history in our opinion doesn’t really matter.”
Outfielder Chris Taylor is expected to be ready for the series, returning to full participation in Monday’s workout after a neck injury kept him out of the lineup the final week of the regular season.
Reliever Blake Treinen is also on track to be healthy, as long as he continues to feel good in the wake of his simulated game outing over the weekend.
“The assumption, the hope is that he feels good today,” Roberts said. “And if that’s the case, then it’s hard to imagine him not being on the roster.”
Pitcher Dustin May is also “healthy enough” after a late-season back strain, Roberts said, but the team is still deciding whether to put him on the NLDS roster or allow him to keep getting built up to be able to handle a greater workload if the club advances to the NLCS.
If the team doesn’t go with May, former closer Craig Kimbrel could be on the roster instead to add right-handed depth in the bullpen.
Another looming decision: Who gets the final bench spot?
Roberts said rookie outfielder Miguel Vargas is “right there” in conversations about which direction to go.
“The hit tool, the foot speed, certainly makes him a real viable possibility,” Roberts said.
If Vargas does make the roster, that would likely leave utility man Hanser Alberto off.
“These are good problems to have,” Roberts said. “Because we have a lot of viable options.”
The Dodgers will need them, because after this weekend’s wild card round upset, the Padres suddenly seem like a much more viable threat.
In that series against the Mets, Manny Machado kept on his MVP-caliber pace, previously struggling trade deadline acquisitions Juan Soto and Josh Bell came to life, and light-hitting Trent Grisham did his best Eddie Rosario impression, becoming an unexpected weapon at the plate.
On Monday, it was clear the Dodgers had taken note.
Dodgers fans might not view the Padres as real rivals, but there’s plenty about their NLDS opponent worth loathing.
“It’s going to be a very intense series,” Roberts said, complimenting the Padres’ rotation, defense and recent offensive surge most of all. “As far as the lineup on the offensive side, they’ve just got a lot more balance than they have in years past. We’ve got a good test.”
Freeman compared the Padres to his World Series winning Atlanta Braves team from last year — which, like these Padres were underdogs when they met the Dodgers in the NLCS; and, like these Padres, entered the matchup riding a wave of October momentum.
“They know how good we are, and we know they’re a really good team,” Freeman said. “So it’s just going to be a great series. Good starting pitching on both sides. Good offenses.”
“They’re hot,” Freeman added to a room full of reporters, before breaking into a sly grin. “And we’ve been hot for seven months.”
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