Can These Dodgers Cement Their Legacy as One of the Greatest Teams of All-Time? The Quest Begins Tonight
The playoff gauntlet will be especially difficult for L.A. this year, starting with a mega-talented Padres team in the Division Series.
As a reminder, we will be chatting all day here:
I’ll be at the Dodgers vs. Padres game tonight with friends, but I’ll be in the chat and tweeting as the game goes along.
I wanted to wait to write a Dodgers vs. Padres NLDS preview until I saw the Dodgers roster and... it’s a doozy. I can’t remember the last time I looked at an L.A. Division Series roster and thought, “OK…uh...sure!!” as hard as I did right now. Here’s what you need to know:
ON: Blake Treinen, Dustin May and Miguel Vargas.
OFF: Craig Kimbrel and Hanser Alberto.
I’m not surprised Kimbrel didn’t make the cut. He’s been the Dodgers’ worst reliever the entire season, which makes their winning 111 games with him entrenched in the closer role until basically last week all that more incredible. There is no scenario where you can trust a struggling one-inning reliever in a Division Series. Maybe he’s viable in a League Championship Series where the Dodgers can afford to punt, say, Game 3 to try and preserve their bullpen for Games 4 and 5. But even then, if I’m Dave Roberts I feel more comfortable handing the ball to Dustin May in a blowout because he can at least eat up 2-3 innings.
May’s inclusion on this roster is also suspect because I don’t trust him right now, either. Look, when May is right, he’s got the filthiest stuff on the Dodgers’ staff, and he’s right up there with the best in baseball. But he hasn’t looked right this year.
It’s not his fault. There’s a general misconception that most guys come back from Tommy John surgery as good as new. This is because everyone who makes it to the big leagues is an athletic freak of nature capable of playing through an injury that would keep most of us bedridden for weeks. May showed promise when he returned earlier this summer, but he’s been inconsistent while he’s dealt with a back injury down the stretch.
Also? I don’t like how emotional he is on the mound, and I say this as someone who would be exactly as emotional if I were asked to take the ball in October. He just turned 25 years old. And like any normal 25-year-old, the highs are too high, and the lows are too low.
Maybe I’m just being paranoid and projecting my own insecurities onto someone who is nothing like me? I love May’s passion during the regular season, but that living-on-the-edge spirit gives me hives in October. Also, if this series hinges on Dustin May, the Dodgers were probably never going to win it. They aren’t likely to ask May to start a game in this series, which helps take the pressure off the kid who has endured one health fiasco after another in the last 18 months. If this series goes only three games, they might not need to use him at all.
But I don’t think this series is going three.
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That’s because the Padres, like the Phillies, are an incomplete but sneaky-talented team that could get hot and crush a better team in October. I’m not going to name any names, but one Dodgers pitcher you all know and love told me Juan Soto is his least favorite batter in all of MLB to face. (This should not come as a shock, because Soto is one of the top five hitters in the world) .
Also, Yu Darvish is incredible, and Blake Snell pitched as well as anyone during the season’s final two months.
Let’s not forget that the Padres traded for a few good Joshs (Bell and Hader) that are nasty in their own right. I have no idea why Hader was so terrible for the Padres in August, but he looks dominant again this October. This turn of events is obviously not great for L.A.
The Padres also feature Manny Machado and Trent Grisham, both of whom go to bed 365 nights a year dreaming of ruining the lives of Dodger fans.
So now that we’re all properly scared of the Padres, here is why I think L.A. will still win this series:
The Dodgers finished this season with 22 more wins than the Padres. Only four teams in MLB history have faced a team in the playoffs with a bigger win differential, and only one of those teams lost. It happened 116 years ago:
Despite San Diego clamoring for an I-5 rivalry, the Dodgers have owned the Padres over the last decade. This is not yet a rivalry until the Padres beat the Dodgers in the playoffs. Even Padres executives know this, which is why they are trying to block Dodger fans (who seem to outnumber Padre fans 10-to-1) from overrunning Petco Park this weekend by blocking people who live in Los Angeles and north Orange county from buying tickets through their website:
This is an incredible self-own that will not work. Dodger fans know how to use StubHub, and many live in San Diego and South Orange County. Games 3 and 4 (if necessary) will be half-full of Dodger fans, which doesn’t really affect the Padres’ odds of winning (they just beat the Mets in Queens with maybe 100 of their fans at those games!). It just makes the Padres look sweaty and desperate, which does not appease the baseball gods. (L.A. teams aren’t immune to this kind of lame behavior, either. The Rams tried this when they played the 49ers in the playoffs last season. It did not stop SoFi from turning into a sea of red and gold.)
The Dodgers get to start Julío Urías in Game 1, while the Padres have to go with Mike Clevinger. San Diego’s top two starters—Darvish and Snell—are resting from their wild-card starts against the Mets. Musgrove—who pitched better than anyone else from any team during the wild-card series—won’t be able to start on regular rest until Game 3, and will not be able to pitch twice this series unless he veers off his usual routine. This is a huge perk of winning the division for Los Angeles. As I type this, the Phillies are up 6-1 on Braves’ ace Max Fried in the 4th inning while using their third-best starting pitcher, Ranger Suarez. Had the Mets not forced a Game 3 in the wild-card round, the Dodgers would be seeing Musgrove today instead of Clevinger, which, in my humble opinion, is an enormous advantage. Dodger fans should be sending Jacob deGrom flowers, and not just to try to coax him to sign with L.A. in free agency.
The Dodgers’ Big Three will be too much for the Padres to handle. The Padres have two of MLB’s top 10 players in their lineup. The Dodgers have three. It may seem like a slight difference, but pitching around Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman and Trea Turner means the bases will be loaded at times for Will Smith. This is sup-optimal. Smith’s .808 on-base percentage is just one point behind Turner’s, and the young catcher won’t be scared of the big stage at all: In 2020 he hit a home run in Game 7 of the NLCS to help the Dodgers mount an incredible comeback and capture the pennant, on their way to winning their first World Series in 32 years.
The Dodgers are too good a team to lose in the divisional round. Right? Right?! I don’t mean to be captain obvious here, but as scary as the San Diego Padres look, the Dodgers look way more terrifying. There is a reason this team won 111 games without breaking much of a sweat this season. They’re simply better than everyone else. While they did not have the starting pitching to hang with the Braves in the 2021 championship series, this year they’ve got 5.5 capable starters ready to go (even without Walker Buehler!).
Urías and Clayton Kershaw will start Games 1 and 2. Then they’ve got Tyler Anderson or Tony Gonsolin lined up for Games 3 and 4. Both had career years. Gonsolin’s health is a question mark, as he’s thrown only two innings since late August. But the Dodgers have Andrew Heaney and Dustin May to spell either Gonsolin or Anderson should they get into trouble.
This is the best Dodger team of my lifetime. This squad has a chance to go down as one of the greatest in MLB history. They’ve already won 111 games. They just need 11 more. The Padres will be tough to beat, but I believe L.A. will win this series in four.