Dodgers vs. Padres NLDS Preview

Howard Cole

This should be fun. The Dodgers and Padres, who will meet in the best-of-five National League Division Series starting on Tuesday, were the two best teams in the National League this year by both wins (43 and 37, respectively) and run differential (+136 and +84, the top two marks in the majors). As the Dodgers witnessed up close ten times this season, the Padres are a young, exciting, athletic team. Their hitters were the fourth-youngest in the majors this year, weighted by playing time, and third in runs per game while leading the majors with 55 stolen bases at an 81 percent success rate. San Diego’s three-game victory over the Cardinals was the most entertaining of last week’s eight Wild Card Series, and of the nine teams the Dodgers played during the regular season, the Padres gave them the hardest time.

Only two teams won four games against the Dodgers this year, the Giants and Padres, and in the Dodgers’ 10 games against San Diego the run differential was 15 runs closer than in their 10 against the Giants. As I have mentioned many times in this space, the Dodgers lost just one series all year, dropping two of three to the Rockies at home in early September. However, the Padres took two of the first three games of their four-game set at Dodger Stadium in mid-August. The Dodgers and Padres met for three series this season, and no team won more than two games in any of those three series. The one time they played four games, they split them. If that happens this week, this Division Series will go to a winner-take-all Game 5.

In a perfect world, this matchup would have come in the best-of-seven League Championship Series, rather than this best-of-five Division Series. However, Major League Baseball’s bracket, which was designed to allow the two-best division winners face off in the LCS, and the fact that the Padres did not win their division (the Dodgers did), made that impossible. So, rather than gripe about what could have been, let’s be glad that this matchup is happening at all in this postseason.

As with the Brewers team the Dodgers quickly dispatched in the Wild Card Series, injuries sidelined the Padres’ best pitchers just before the postseason. On Sunday, Padres’ manager Jayce Tingler told the media that decisions about both his pitching rotation and the roster status of his top two starters, Dinelson Lamet and deadline addition Mike Clevinger, would have to wait until the last possible moment. The decisions on Lamet and Clevinger, who missed the Wild Card round due to biceps and elbow injuries, respectively, will come with the announcement of the Division Series rosters around mid-day on Tuesday. That, in turn, will determine the Padres’ pitching plan for at least the first two games of this series, while San Diego may play the rest of the series by ear after that.

One very important change in this year’s Division Series, even more significant than the fact that it is being held in a neutral park—the Rangers’ ugly, new, artificial-turfed airplane hangar in Arlington, Texas, officially known as Globe Life Park, which will also host the NLCS and World Series—is that, with no need for travel, there are no off-days. Both teams will thus need to exhaust their rotation options. For the Dodgers, that could mean starts for Tony Gonsolin, Julio Urías, and Dustin May if the series goes five games. For the Padres, that will likely mean at least one bullpen game, and possibly multiple bullpen games if Lamet and Clevinger are left off the roster. Here’s the series schedule (Games 4 and 5 to be played only if necessary):

Game 1 - Tues. 10/6, 6:38 p.m. PT, FS1: TBA v. RHP Walker Buehler

Game 2 – Wed. 10/7, 6:08 p.m. PT, FS1: TBA v. LHP Clayton Kershaw

Game 3 – Thur. 10/8, 6:08 p.m. PT, MLBN: Pitchers TBA

Game 4 – Fri. 10/9, 6:08 p.m. PT, FS1: Pitchers TBA

Game 5 – Sat. 10/10, 5:08 p.m. PT, FS1: Pitchers TBA

With regard to San Diego’s other starters, soft-tossing righty Zach Davies made two quality starts against L.A. this season, both in losing efforts, allowing five runs in 13 innings for a strong 3.46 ERA. In their careers, the active Dodgers hitters have hit a combined .224/.265/.344 against Davies in 133 plate appearances. Davies poor start against the Cardinals in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series (2 IP, 4 R) marked the first time all season that he allowed more than three earned runs in a game. Sophomore righty Chris Paddaack faced the Dodgers twice in early August, turning in a quality start the first time, then getting lit up for six runs in three innings ten days later. In his last two starts, his last of the regular season and Game 1 against the Cardinals, he allowed a total of 11 runs in six innings including four home runs. Six different Dodgers have homered off Paddack in his young career, and the active Dodgers hitters have hit a combined .289/.345/.697 with seven home runs in 84 plate appearances against him. Garrett Richards was moved to the bullpen in mid-September because the Padres didn’t think they’d need him in the rotation in the postseason, and they kept him in a short-relief role in the Wild Card series, opting to bullpen Game 3 rather than hand him the ball. The circumstances of this series, and the state of their once-impressive rotation, may force San Diego to use Richards for a longer stint in this series, but, as of Sunday, Tingler said he had not discussed a change of role with Richards.

The Dodgers are taking a somewhat similar approach, having announced only Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw as their Game 1 and 2 starters, respectively, keeping them in the order in which they pitched in the Wild Card Series. I’m a bit surprised that L.A. didn’t swap those two to leave open the possibility of Kershaw returning on three-day’s rest for a potential Game 5. Perhaps the reasoning is that, with Buehler likely still on a limited pitch count due to his recent blister issue, he might be fresher for a short-rest return in Game 5, while maximizing Kershaw’s innings in his lone start could help rest the bullpen after Buehler’s initial appearance.

In an admittedly tiny sample size, Buehler has held the active Padres to a .184/.231/.388 batting line in 52 plate appearances. In his only start against San Diego this year, he gave up just three hits in five innings, but all three were solo home runs. Kershaw turned in a quality start in his only outing against the Padres this year, striking out nine against no walks while allowing three runs in 6 1/3 innings. As a whole, the Padres have not hit him well, but Fernando Tatis Jr. (.500 OBP in 10 PA), Manny Machado (.611 slugging in 18 PA), and, surprisingly, lefty Eric Hosmer (.333/.357/.519 in 28 PA) have all had some success against him, though those three are a collective 0-for-6 against him this year.

For their part, Gonsolin held the Padres to one run over 11 2/3 innings this year, Urías held them to two runs on a pair of solo homers in 6 1/3 innings in his lone start against them back in mid-August, and May posted a 2.60 ERA across three starts against San Diego during the regular season, again with most of those runs coming on homers.

That rotation depth gives the Dodgers an advantage, but it’s worth remembering that the Padres’ bullpenned the final game of their Wild Card Series and shutout the Cardinals in a double-elimination game. This October’s 28-man rosters benefit the Padres tremendously in that regard. No Padres pitcher threw more than three innings in the three-game Wild Card Series, yet the Padres still didn’t use all 14 of the pitchers on their roster (Dan Altavilla, a deadline acquisition from the Mariners, was left on the sidelines), and every pitcher on both teams will enter this series with at least three-day’s rest.

It will be difficult for the Padres to lean as heavily on their bullpen in this series given that they might need to play five games in five days. Still, San Diego could carry yet another pitcher by dropping the third-catcher or rookie Jorge Mateo from their roster, giving Tingler 15 arms to choose from. Similarly, the Dodgers seem likely to add Dylan Floro back to their roster at the expense of pinch-runner Terrance Gore, which would get them up to 13 pitchers, most of whom last appeared in a game during the regular season.

Whatever the Padres’ pitching plan proves to be, there is a crucial difference between these Padres, even without Lamet and Clevinger, and the Brewers, who were without Corbin Burnes, Devin Williams, and Brett Anderson in the last series. That difference is the lineup.

As I wrote last week, the Brewers ranked 27th out of 30 teams in runs per game and limped into the postseason having failed to score more than three runs in any of their final eight games. Accordingly, the Dodgers held them to just two runs across the two Wild Card games. The Padres, by comparison, ranked third in the majors with 5.4 runs scored per game and averaged 6.3 runs per game against St. Louis in the Wild Card Series.

The Padres hit .304/.388/.539 as a team in that series. In the abbreviated regular season, every member of the Padres’ typical starting lineup (listed below) had an OPS+ of 122 or better with the exception of Tommy Pham. Pham, however, went 6-for-13 (.462) with a pair of doubles and a pair of stolen bases in the Wild Card Series and has a career postseason batting line of .372/.386/.628 in 44 plate appearances with the Cardinals, Rays and Padres.

The Padres rake, they make plays in the field and on the bases, and even if their rotation is in shambles, they have a deep bullpen that Tingler, who has impressed in his first season as a major-league manager, uses well.

The Dodgers rake, too, of course. They led the majors with 5.82 runs per game and 118 homers. However, they only scored seven runs across two games in the Wild Card series against a Brewers team that lacked its best pitchers, and the 4.8 runs per game they scored against the Padres during the regular season was their lowest mark against any of the nine teams they faced prior to scoring 3.5 runs per game in the Wild Card Series. Lamet was a big part of the Padres’ ability to keep the Dodgers’ offense in check, allowing just three runs (two earned) over 12 2/3 innings in two starts against L.A., but those innings still represent just one-and-a-third of the ten games the two teams played against each other this season. (Clevinger has never faced the Dodgers with San Diego or Cleveland.)

The quietest Dodger bats in that brief Wild Card Series belonged to Justin Turner (0-for-8), Max Muncy (0-for-5, two walks), and Will Smith (0-for-6, one walk), who hit third, fourth, and fifth in the order in both games. The unofficial MVP of that series was likely Mookie Betts (3-for-7 with a walk, three doubles, and three RBI), though Kershaw’s dominance in Game 2 (8 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 13 K) was the most impressive performance by a Dodger in the series. As easily as they dispatched the Brewers last week, the Dodgers will have to play better as a team this week against a far better opponent to advance to next week’s NLCS.

Rosters

Here’s the roster the Padres used in the Wild Card Series. Again, they may swap out a bench player for an extra pitcher for this series, and there’s a small chance they may carry Lamet or Clevinger, but we won’t know any of that until mid-day Tuesday:

Lineup vs. RHP

L – Trent Grisham (CF)

R – Fernando Tatis Jr. (SS)

R – Manny Machado (3B)

L – Eric Hosmer (1B)

R – Tommy Pham (LF)

L – Mitch Moreland (DH)

R – Wil Myers (RF)

R – Austin Nola (C)

L – Jake Cronenworth (2B)

Bench:

UT – Jurickson Profar (S)

IF – Greg Garcia (L)

OF/2B – Jorge Mateo (R)

C – Jason Castro (L)

C – Luis Campusano (R)

Against lefties: Grisham drops to ninth, moving Tatis, Machado, and Hosmer up. Myers hits cleanup ahead of Pham, who moves to DH to allow Profar to play left and hit eighth, pushing Moreland to the bench. Cronenworth moves to sixth to create distance from fellow lefty Grisham.

Starting Pitchers:

R – Chris Paddack

R – Zach Davies

R – Garrett Richards

Bullpen:

R – Trevor Rosenthal

L – Drew Pomeranz

L – Tim Hill

R – Pierce Johnson

L – Matt Strahm

R – Emilio Pagán

R – Craig Stammen

L – Adrian Morejon

R – Dan Altavilla

R – Austin L. Adams

R – Luis Patiño

Here’s the roster the Dodgers’ used in the Wild Card Series. Again, they’re likely to swap out Gore for Floro to add an extra arm to the bullpen. Floro, it should be noted, is more than an extra arm, as he was one of the team’s top relievers during the regular season, posting a 2.59 ERA in 25 appearances.

Typical lineup:

R – Mookie Betts (RF)

L – Corey Seager (SS)

R – Justin Turner (3B)

L – Max Muncy (1B)

R – Will Smith (C)

L – Cody Bellinger (CF)

R – A.J. Pollock (LF)

L – Edwin Ríos (DH)

R – Chris Taylor (2B)

Bench:

UT – Kiké Hernández (R)

1B – Matt Beaty (L)

OF – Joc Pederson (L)

OF – Terrance Gore (R)

C – Austin Barnes (R)

C – Keibert Ruiz (C)

Barnes will catch Clayton Kershaw, pushing Smith to DH and Ríos to the bench. The Padres don’t have a lefty starter who is likely to pitch deep into a game (rookie Adrian Morejon is the only lefty on their roster who could even be called a starter), so the Dodgers won’t need a heavily right-handed lineup in this series. That said, Dave Roberts has reused a lineup just three times all season, so expect some variation from the above in each game.

Starting Pitchers:

R – Walker Buehler

L – Clayton Kershaw

R – Tony Gonsolin

L – Julio Urías

R – Dustin May

Bullpen:

R – Kenley Jansen

R – Blake Treinen

L – Jake McGee

L – Adam Kolarek

R – Brudsar Graterol

R – Pedro Báez

R – Joe Kelly

L – Victor González

Cliff Corcoran covers baseball for The Athletic and is a former lead baseball writer for SI.com. 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 Boston.com, 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.

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