Dodgers at Padres Series Preview

Dodgers at Padres Series Preview
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The Dodgers’ three-game series against the Padres in San Diego, which commences Monday night, is poised to be the most compelling series of the season so far for L.A. Small-sample caveats firmly in place, the Dodgers and Padres enter this series a game apart atop the National League West standings, with the first and fourth-best run differentials in the league (Dodgers are tops at +30, Padres fourth at +11). Better yet, this series pits the most prolific run-scoring team on the young season against the stingiest run-prevention team in the majors.

The Dodgers’ 2.4 runs allowed per game, 1.84 team ERA, and 243 ERA+ are all the best marks in the majors in the early going. L.A. has allowed more than three runs in a game just twice and has yet to allow more than five in a game. However, eight of their ten games thus far have come against the rebuilding Giants (who were without veteran corner bats Evan Longoria and Brandon Belt for the opening series) and the Diamondbacks, who have outscored only Cleveland to this point in the season.

Enter the Padres, who lead the majors with 59 runs scored and 5.9 per game. The Padres don’t have the best aggregate batting line in the majors, but they have plated 41 percent of their baserunners, trailing only the Braves in that category, in part by batting a major-league-best .330/.450/.659 with runners in scoring position. They have also been an elite baserunning team thus far, leading the majors with 14 stolen bases in a mere 15 attempts (and a mere 10 games) and trailing only the Diamondbacks in the frequency with which they have taken the extra base, doing so in 56 percent of their opportunities to Arizona’s 69 percent (per Baseball-Reference). Per FanGraphs’ Base Running Runs Above Average, the Padres’ have generated twice as many runs with their baserunning as any other team in the majors. You can add in their six triples, again twice the total of any other team, as further evidence of their team speed.

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The Padres lineup assembling those numbers typically begins with this top six against right-handed pitchers:

R – Fernando Tatís Jr. (SS)

L – Trent Grisham (CF)

R – Manny Machado (3B)

R – Tommy Pham (LF)

S – Jurickson Profar (2B)

R – Wil Myers (RF)

With new launch-angle convert Eric Hosmer on the injured list with gastritis, rookie manager Jayce Tingler is splitting first base duties between rookie lefty Jake Cronenworth (who hit .334/.429/.520 in Triple-A last year as a two-way player in the Rays’ system before being acquired in the Tommy Pham trade) and sophomore righty Ty France. The Padres are splitting their catching duties between bat-first switch-hitter Francisco Mejía and glove-first righty Austin Hedges. Neither position is adhering to a strict platoon, however. As for DH, the team is primarily using the new position as a resting place for one of their other regulars, most often an outfielder spelled by right-handed hitting rookie Edward Olivares, a strong-armed speedster who stole 35 bases in Double-A last year.

In addition to the surprising production of the Padres’ lineup, the Dodgers are going to face the top of the Padres’ rotation, which has been very impressive one-through-three thus far. Here are the pitching matchups:

Mon. 8/3, 6:10pm PDT: RHP Walker Buehler (4.91 ERA, 3 2/3 IP) vs. RHP Chris Paddack (1.64 ERA, 11 IP)

Tue. 8/4, 6:10pm PDT: RHP Dustin May (2.35 ERA, 7 2/3 IP) vs. RHP Dinelson Lamet (1.80 ERA, 10 IP)

Wed. 8/5, 6:10pm PDT: RHP Ross Stripling (2.92 ERA, 12 1/3 IP) vs. RHP Garrett Richards (3.38 ERA, 10 2/3 IP)

That is easily the best starting pitching the Dodgers have had to face thus far. Taking them in turn, Paddack is picking up where he left off after an impressive rookie season in 2019. He faced the Dodgers three times last year, all in San Diego, but was hit hard in two of the three outings, with lefties Max Muncy and Matt Beaty combining to go 5-for-9 with four doubles, a homer and two walks against him on the season.

Lamet continues to work his way back from April 2018 Tommy John surgery. He made 14 starts last year, and both his velocity and slider usage are up in the early going this year, with Lamet averaging more than 97 miles per hour on his fastball, which has reached triple-digits, and throwing his slider more than half of the time. Dinelson’s 14 starts last year were bookended by outings against L.A. which saw him strikeout 17 men against 4 walks in 10 total innings but also allow seven runs and four home runs. He has yet to allow his first home run this season. Joc Pederson has had Lamet’s number thus far, going 3-for-4 with two home runs, a double, and a walk, but Lamet has owned Cody Bellinger (2-for-10 with five strikeouts and no extra-baes hits).

A variety of injuries, including a July 2018 Tommy John surgery, limited Garrett Richards to 31 starts and less than 150 innings over the last four seasons. He’s now 32, but he’s healthy (for now) and still throwing in the mid-90s. In his two starts thus far, he threw five scoreless innings against the hapless Diamondbacks, then gave up four runs in 5 2/3 innings in Colorado. Neither of those is terribly informative, but his peripherals are strong (12 strikeouts in 10 2/3 innings, just one home run allowed). The Dodgers haven’t had much exposure to Richards, and those that have haven’t had much success (Mookie Betts has seen him the most and is 1-for-9 without a walk or extra-base hit).

As for the Dodgers, Walker Buehler threw 56 pitches in his season debut in Houston. Dave Roberts will likely try to get him to 70 pitches on Monday night, hoping he can get at least into the fifth inning on that allotment. Similarly, Dustin May went from 60 pitches in the opener to 76 pitches in Houston, but wasn’t particularly efficient in the latter outing (neither May nor Buehler got out of the fourth inning against the Astros). The Dodgers are likely hoping May can go five or six innings with a 90-pitch allotment on Tuesday. Ross Stripling, by comparison, has been the team’s horse in the early going. He’ll have to be careful with Wil Myers, who is 6-for-13 with a walk, a pair of doubles, and no strikeouts against Stripling in his career. However, Stripling has been hard on the running game over the last two years, with just five of 15 attempting basestealers succeeding while he is on the mound. There have been no attempts against him thus far this season. By way of comparison, basestealers succeeded in 8 of 9 attempts against Buehler last year.

Elsewhere, the Dodgers have some concern about the swelling in Mookie Betts middle finger that prompted Mookie’s removal from Sunday’s game, but his x-rays were negative, and the long layoff between that Sunday afternoon contest and Monday night could benefit Betts. One hopes that, even if Mookie has to miss Monday night’s game, his absence is temporary and doesn’t have a cooling effect on his bat, as he went 6-for-11 with three doubles and two homers in the final three games in Phoenix, and several of his outs traveled a good 400 feet. The Dodgers similarly hope that Sunday’s day off due to a cramp in his left quadriceps didn’t cool off Corey Seager’s bat. The Dodgers’ leading hitter on the young season, Seager should be back in the lineup as the designated hitter Monday night.

Assuming Betts will play at least the latter two games, this should be a fun series. The Padres are finally back in brown and gold, they’re good, young (only the Blue Jays have a younger offense, as weighted by playing time), athletic, exciting, and are shaping up as the favorite to claim that second-place playoff spot in the NL West in this year’s expanded playoffs. I’m curious to see if they still look that impressive after three games against the Dodgers.

Cliff Corcoran covers baseball for The Athletic and is a former lead baseball writer for The co-author or editor of 13 baseball books, including seven Baseball Prospectus annuals, he has also written for USA Today, SB Nation, Baseball Prospectus, Sports on Earth, The Hardball Times, and, among others. He has been a semi-regular guest analyst on the MLB Network and can be heard more regularly on The Infinite Inning podcast with Steven Goldman. Follow Cliff on Twitter @CliffCorcoran.