With the way this year has gone in many different facets, it’s no surprise that the two best teams in the National League are squaring off in the NLDS and not the NLCS. How fun would it be if everything were logical?
The Dodgers were 6-4 against the Padres this year, meaning that San Diego played them about as tough as any other team.
As ESPN put it, “The Dodgers are the National League’s No. 1 seed in the MLB playoffs after posting baseball’s best record during the regular season. The Padres won more games than any NL team not named the Dodgers to finish second in the West and secure the No. 4 seed.” Still, while Los Angeles has clinched a playoff spot for the past eight years, despite San Diego’s recent success, the Padres have not reached the postseason since 2006 and have not won a playoff series since 1998.
According to ESPN’s Bradford Doolittle, the Dodgers have a 62.9% chance of winning the series.
While there is seemingly tons of pre-series analysis to be discussed before Tuesday’s NLDS opener between the Dodgers and Padres, we thought we’d start out with a few of the obvious storylines before diving a bit deeper over the next few days.
Talk about crazy. The Dodgers punched their ticket to the Division Series after Thursday night’s victory over the Brewers, but they won’t play again until the NLDS opener on Tuesday. What’s wild is that there are no off days scheduled for the series, so the teams will play every day until one of them wins three games. This could affect the Dodgers immensely, as they really have not revealed their starting pitching plans beyond their first two aces. Should the series reach a Game 4 or Game 5, we could see both clubs getting extra creative. Conceivably, we might see multiple starters throwing on short rest and bullpens playing super-critical roles in the series outcome.
THE SAN DIEGO ROTATION
Speaking of rotations, the Padres’ starting pitching crew finished second in the National League—only to the Dodgers—as far as the combined ERA of their starting pitchers went. However, their two biggest arms, Dinelson Lamet and Mike Clevinger, are questionable for the upcoming series. San Diego has not revealed exactly how close either are to returning, but there are rumors that Lamet might be the closest of the two. Both have been seen playing catch this week. Otherwise, the Padres’ starters in the opening round against the Cardinals were not impressive in the least, averaging just two innings per start in those games. Chris Paddack and Zach Davies struggled immensely, and there’s not much else as far as depth goes. In terms of bullpens, San Diego finished seventh in the NL with an overall 4.38 relief ERA while the Dodgers finished first with a 2.74 mark.
While we have not yet heard any plans from the Dodgers as far as their NLDS rotation goes, skipper Dave Roberts is making himself available to the media on Sunday afternoon, when he might reveal a few potential clues. With the four days off, rest is not an issue for any of the usual Los Angeles starters. What we do know is that it will either be Clayton Kershaw or Walker Buehler for Game 1, opening the door for either to garner another start on short rest should the series go the five-game distance.
Ahead of the series, Bill Plunkett of the OC Register made some insightful observations. “Physically, Kershaw’s fastball velocity ticked up to 91.7 mph this year, its highest since 2017. And tactically, Kershaw has continued a mid-career makeover of his pitch mix and sequencing, throwing his fastball a career-low 40.2% of the time and throwing his slider (41%) and curveball (18.7%) at the highest rates of his career.”
Furthermore, “over the past seven seasons, Kershaw never entered the postseason having thrown fewer than 149 innings or made fewer than 21 starts. He entered the 2020 playoffs having made just 10 starts and thrown 58 1/3 innings.”
The playoff stars may finally be in alignment for CK.
My prediction: Dodgers in four games.