LOS ANGELES — As rivalries go, the Dodgers’ plight against the San Diego Padres looks lopsided.
The Dodgers beat the Padres in 14 of their 19 head-to-head games this season. They won individual games by scores of 8-1, 10-2, 11-2, and 12-1. Three of their losses came in extra innings, which no longer feature a “zombie runner” placed on second base to begin each half-inning.
“They handed it to us pretty good this year,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said, “so we realize what we’re up against.”
The Padres were the underdogs in their best-of-three wild-card series against the New York Mets, but they managed to take two of the three games at Citi Field, including a 6-0 shutout victory on Sunday night in Game 3.
It was only three games, but perhaps that series was enough to give the Padres some momentum heading into Dodger Stadium, where they went 2-8 during the regular season.
For his part, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts did not sound like a man holding a full house – regardless of the actual attendance in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.
“The win/loss in the season I think certainly has been skewed, but I think that if you were a part and really follow each game, they could have gone either way, a lot of them,” Roberts said. “So, it’s obviously a team that’s coming off a very big series, emotional series. A very talented team.”
What can the Padres do differently?
Melvin hinted at a partial answer when asked about his Game 1 starter, Mike Clevinger.
“Based on a little bit more rest every time, he has been better,” Melvin said of Clevinger. “At home, he pitched five (innings), I believe, and had a low pitch count. We kind of look at a certain pitch count for him to where maybe the effectiveness tails off a little bit.”
The game in question might have been Clevinger’s final regular-season start, against the Chicago White Sox on Oct. 1. Clevinger needed only 66 pitches to complete six innings that day, perhaps leaving plenty in the proverbial tank when he was removed prior to the seventh inning.
Opposing hitters are hitting .306 with a 1.032 OPS the third time through the order this season. Compared to his stifling success earlier in games – .246 with a .692 OPS when facing hitters the second time, and .178 with a .588 OPS the first time – it’s easy to see why Clevinger can expect a quick hook in Game 1. He’s never faced a hitter four times in one game in 2022.
The Dodgers have quite famously seen that play. In Game 6 of the 2020 World Series, then-Tampa Bay Rays starter Blake Snell was throwing a one-hit shutout when he allowed a single to Austin Barnes with one out in the sixth inning. Snell was promptly removed before he could face Mookie Betts a third time. Nick Anderson allowed a couple of quick runs, opening the floodgates for the Dodgers to walk straight through to the Commissioner’s Trophy.
The Dodgers might be fans of the “quick hook,” but the strategies at a manager’s disposal are finite. He is bound, for better or worse, by the limits of the potential of his 26-man roster. And the Padres’ potential has fallen short against the Dodgers more often than not.
Much of their hope seems to rest on faith in their recent performance.
“Any time you have a series like we did there (in New York) and move to the next round, (it) makes you feel good,” Melvin said, “so we’re just glad to be here.”
Roberts left open the possibility for pitchers Dustin May and Blake Treinen, and outfielder Chris Taylor, to make the NLDS roster despite their recent health struggles.
May (back) and Treinen (shoulder) “are both going to be healthy enough to make it,” Roberts said.
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May seems less certain than Treinen by virtue of his uneven performance down the stretch. He allowed 15 runs in his three worst games, and only two runs across his three best, after returning from Tommy John surgery on Aug. 20.
The 25-year-old right-hander did not make any appearances out of the bullpen this season, and he would be facing a 20-day layoff since his last competitive start.
Treinen hasn’t pitched a competitive game in more than a month, and he would be challenged to pitch on consecutive days in the best-of-five series. But his track record of success might be enough to overcome those question marks. Treinen has a 2.45 ERA and 113 strikeouts across 103 innings in parts of three seasons as a Dodger.
Taylor, meanwhile, has said he expects to be ready to play ever since receiving a cortisone shot in his neck on Oct. 3. He hasn’t played since Sept. 30 and relied on live at-bats against teammates to prepare for the NLDS.
Taylor batted .221 with a .677 OPS during the regular season.