Get all of Cliff Corcoran’s columns as soon as they’re published. Download the new Sports Illustrated app (iOS or Android) and personalize your experience by following your favorite teams and SI writers.
The San Diego Padres lost to the Dodgers 7–0 Wednesday night. In so doing, they became the first team in major league history to fail to score a run in their first three games of the season. Opening at home at Petco Park on Monday, the Padres lost to the Dodgers by scores of 15–0, 3–0 and 7–0 over the last three days to set an all-time mark for futility to start a season.
To make that record even more painful, the Padres actually did score a run in Wednesday night’s game, but a bad call on the field, erroneously upheld upon review, erased it, leaving the Padres entering their weekend series with the Rockies on Friday still looking for their first run of the season. The play in question came in the bottom of the sixth inning. Jon Jay led off against Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda with a single and was replaced at first base by Cory Spangenberg via a fielder’s choice, another play that required a review, with the replay umpires overturning the initial safe call at second base. After Spangenberg went to third on a single by Matt Kemp, Wil Myers hit a chopper to first base that Adrian Gonzalez fielded on the grass and fired home to catcher A.J. Ellis in an attempt to throw out Spangenberg at the plate. The play was close, and home plate umpire Jim Wolf called Spangenberg out, a call that was upheld on review. But take a look at this:
That’s the moment at which Spangenberg’s foot first made contact with the corner of home plate, pushing Ellis’s foot out of the way in the process. Note that Ellis is still at least half a foot away from applying the tag. Spangenberg was safe, and the replay umpires should have been able to figure that out. Nonetheless, the Padres now hold the record as the only team ever to be shut out in their first three games of the season.
In doing so, the Padres broke by one the record for most innings without scoring a run to start a season. The 1943 Cardinals went 26 innings without scoring a run to start the season, losing their first two games in extra innings by 1–0 scores, then scoring once in the sixth inning and once in the eighth inning of their third game. However, the mark for overall scoring futility through the first three games of the season was actually set by the Twins just last year. Playing the Tigers in Detroit, the Twins opened 2015 by becoming the first team ever to fail to score an earned run in their first three games. Their lone tally in that opening series was an unearned run in the seventh inning of the third game. Altogether, they were outscored 22–1 in that series. The Padres can take solace in that result, because the Twins then went on to win nine more games than the Tigers (12 more after that series) and finish second in the American League Central, while the Tigers sank all the way to last place.
Still, this Dodgers-Padres series stands as one of the most lopsided season-opening series of all time. The combined score of 25–0 gives the Dodgers one of the largest run differentials after the first three games of the season since the arrival of the 20th century. Here’s that list:
|1978||Brewers||+29||93–69||Led majors in runs scored|
|1905||Giants||+25||105–48||World Series champions|
|1995||Red Sox||+23||86–58||AL East champions|
Of particular interest here is that 1974 Dodgers team, not only because it won 102 games and the National League pennant (it then lost the World Series to the A’s in five games), but because those Dodgers also opened the season against the Padres. That series took place at Dodger Stadium, with the Dodgers winning 8–0 in the first two games and 9–2 in the third. The Padres went 23 innings without a run before finally pushing one across in the sixth inning of game three, the very same inning in which the controversial play above took place on Wednesday night. How did that Padres team do that season? It finished with the worst record in the majors (an exact inverse of the Dodgers’ finish at 60–102), allowed the most runs in the majors and scored the least, that last mark despite the presence of a 22-year-old Dave Winfield and a 36-year-old Willie McCovey, both of whom had fine seasons.
As we saw with the Tigers and Twins last year, such a lopsided start doesn’t etch these two teams’ fates in stone. It is, after all, just three games, less than 2% of the season, and a lot can and will happen to both teams over the remaining 159 contests. Still, a deeper look at the teams that have been in comparable positions to the Dodgers and Padres suggests that such dramatic starts are more often than not indicative of future performance. Of the 16 other teams to open the season with a run differential of +20 or better, 14 finished with winning records (last year’s Tigers and the 2001 Rockies, both of whom had +21 differentials after three games, being the exceptions). Nine of those 16 teams made the playoffs. Meanwhile, of the nine teams to score one run or, we can now add, fewer in their first three games, not one made the playoffs and as many finished with the worst record in baseball as managed to scratch out a winning record. The 1933 Boston Braves posted the best record of the bunch, finishing at 83–71, which was only good for fourth place in the National League that year. Last year’s Twins, who went 83–79, had the highest finish, coming in second place in the AL Central, 12 games behind the Royals.
All of which is to say that the Dodgers and the Padres are roughly who we thought they were. The Dodgers are serious contenders. The Padres are a second-division team unlikely to finish above fourth place in the NL West. These three games have done nothing to alter that perception.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers have their work cut out for them in attempting to break the 1963 Cardinals’ record of 32 scoreless innings to start a season. Their next game is Thursday afternoon against the Giants, who just took two of three from the Brewers, outscoring them 17–8. The pitcher the Dodgers are sending to the hill in San Francisco is not Clayton Kershaw, Scott Kazmir or Maeda, who rubbed salt in the Padres’ wounds by homering in his second major league at-bat on Wednesday, but Alex Wood, who has a 7.27 career ERA against the Giants, albeit in a paltry 8 2/3 innings. Most likely, the ’63 Cardinals’ record is safe. The 2016 Padres’ record should be safe for years to come, as well.