When you are winning 70 percent of your games, you don’t spend a lot of time looking in the rearview mirror.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have not only led the National League West since the first days of the season, but they have been the most dominant team in the majors this season. They finished a two-game split with the Houston Astros Sunday night with a 33-14 record.
But wait … there is another team, the San Diego Padres, hot on the Dodgers’ heels. And the Padres host the Dodgers for three games starting Monday night.
Yes, the Dodgers have played excellent baseball all season. But the Padres just swept three games from the upstart San Francisco Giants to post their second seven-game winning streak of the season. They are 20-5 over their last 25 games and own an 18-6 record at Petco Park.
The Padres are even 3-4 against the Dodgers this season heading into the teams’ final meetings of the regular season. Had the season ended Sunday, the Dodgers would be the No. 1 seed in the National League playoffs and the Padres would be the No. 4 seed. Were they both successful in the first round, they could meet in the semifinals.
But, make no mistake, the Padres would like to be the No. 1 seed. And they enter this series within striking distance … trailing the Dodgers by only 2 1/2 games.
San Diego County native and former Padres player, coach and (for one day) manager Dave Roberts took note of the Padres improved play when the two teams met seven times within a span of 11 days in early August.
“They are for real,” Roberts said at the time. “They have greatly improved in every aspect of the game: offense, pitching defense … they’re just playing the game better. They’re doing a lot of little things better, like working the count.”
And the Padres are having fun.
There are some things we can improve on,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said Sunday afternoon. “But we are having a blast. We’re doing a good job of playing winning baseball. And we’re willing to play anywhere, anytime. We’re ready to play ball. Just let us know when.”
The Padres have pulled close to the Dodgers because when they were winning seven straight, the Dodgers were going 3-4.
But now they go head to head with a team they’ve been chasing for almost a decade. On Sunday, with their 31st win, the Padres clinched their first winning season since 2010. They haven’t been in the playoffs since 2006. And it’s been since 1998 since they won a postseason series (when they won their second National League pennant).
You probably have to go back to 1996 to find another late-season meeting between the Padres and Dodgers that meant more to the Padres. That was when the Padres won the last three games of the regular season at Dodger Stadium to take the NL West title away from the Dodgers.
The series opens Monday night with Padres right-hander Dinelson Lamet (2-1, 2.24 ERA) facing Dodgers left-handed ace Clayton Kershaw (2-3, 5.23 ERA), although the Dodgers have hinted there might be a change.
The Padres are 7-2 in games started by Lamet this season. The fastball-slider specialist has twice taken a no-hitter into the fifth this season. He went 7 2/3 scoreless innings in his most recent start and held the Dodgers to two runs (one earned) on two hits and two walks in 5 2/3 innings on Aug. 4.
Lamet is 0-3 with a 4.39 ERA iin five starts against the Dodgers in his career.
Kershaw hasn’t faced the Padres this season. But he is 21-6 lifetime against them Padres in 39 starts. He has a 1.98 career ERA against the Padres with a 0.982 WHIP, a .191 opponents’ batting average and 268 strikeouts in 254 2/3 innings.
–Field Level Media