SAN DIEGO — Well, that certainly lived up to the hype.
Off the field, the Padres and Dodgers traded blows all winter, taking two of the sport’s best rosters and infusing them with even more talent. On the field, it made for some downright riveting baseball this weekend in San Diego — where the Dodgers won nail-biters on Friday and Saturday night, before the Padres came from behind on Sunday.
These three games were close. They were tense. They even got chippy. At this point, you wouldn’t expect anything less.
“It was a good preview for many more to come,” said Padres manager Jayce Tingler.
It won’t be long until the two National League West rivals meet again, with four games in Los Angeles slated to begin Thursday night. Here’s a look at four noteworthy storylines from a wild weekend:
1. These teams don’t like each other
Three games, two incidents that cleared the benches. Yeah, it’s going to be that kind of rivalry.
On Friday night, tensions ran high in extras when Jorge Mateo was plunked in the hip by a Dennis Santana fastball. Mateo took a few steps toward first base, then took exception when Santana looked in his direction and perhaps said something. No fireworks ensued, though both dugouts and bullpens cleared.
The kerfuffle on Saturday was tamer. But it perfectly illustrated the nature of this rivalry — that something as simple as a catcher’s interference call would cause sparks to fly. Jurickson Profar took a late half-swing at a Clayton Kershaw fastball and appeared to strike out. He quickly contended that he made contact with Austin Barnes’ glove. Replays confirmed that fact.
But Kershaw, none too pleased with the nature of the swing, let Profar know about it. He shouted at Profar from the third-base line. Profar, standing on first base, shouted back. Again the benches cleared, though both sides remained in front of their respective dugouts.
“We knew it was going to be emotional and intense,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “And it has certainly lived up to the billing.”
2. The pitching talent is overwhelming
The Padres and Dodgers had two of the best pitching staffs in the Majors last season. So, naturally, each of them added a former Cy Young Award winner this offseason, marking the first time that two teams with the best record in a league added a former Cy Young Award winner the following offseason.
San Diego added Blake Snell via trade in December. Los Angeles responded a month later by signing Trevor Bauer to a record-setting deal. Both Snell and Bauer were on the mound on Sunday, and neither disappointed, each delivering solid performances for their respective teams.
But they certainly weren’t the only ones to put up quality innings this weekend.
Entering this weekend, the Padres and Dodgers had the two best team ERAs in the Majors. That was on full display as the six starters posted a combined 1.60 ERA. It was pure dominance on the mound from some of the best pitchers in the game, and it’s what we should expect moving forward.
“They’re talented; they can pitch,” Roberts said about the Padres’ staff. “There’s a lot of talent over there.”
3. Mookie won the battle of the superstars
On two teams overflowing with stars, Mookie Betts and Fernando Tatis Jr. stand out as the two brightest. And though neither of them made much of an impact at the plate this weekend, Betts lived up to the moment with an incredible game-winning catch on Saturday night. He ranged to his left to rob Tommy Pham of extra bases with the tying runs in scoring position — on a play with a mere 10% catch probability.
“You’re just kind of in the moment and playing the game,” Betts told SportsNet LA. “I just know when the ball went up in the air, I had to go catch it. And that’s what I did.”
With Tatis, on the other hand, it’s clear he’s not yet at his best. The Padres shortstop was activated from the injured list Friday ahead of the series opener and launched his second home run of the season. But he committed two errors in key moments on Friday night, bringing his total to seven this season, and he finished the series just 1-for-13.
That’s the bad news. The good news? Tatis’ shoulder seems fine.
He’s getting regular treatment on it and says he feels 100%. In three games since his return, it hasn’t been an issue, and he certainly has put it to the test with his usual array of diving plays at short and ferocious cuts at the plate. (Notably all of those swings have finished with a smooth two-handed follow-through. Tatis sustained his partially dislocated left shoulder two weeks ago when following through with only one, and that’s been a point of emphasis in his recovery.)
4. These games are going to be played differently
Just three games in April? Hardly. There’s an NL West title at stake, and any victory for either of these teams is a dent in the other’s chances. That effect doubles when they play each other.
The Dodgers shuffled their rotation so they could have their three aces starting this weekend. The Padres made certain that they had Snell and Darvish on the hill, too, but were forced to use 21-year-old rookie Ryan Weathers on Friday night because of a handful of injuries.
Weathers, to his credit, fit right in with 3 2/3 scoreless frames. Then, the Padres used nine different relievers to cover 8 1/3 innings. Both closers, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon, pitched multiple innings on Friday night. It was October-style baseball played in the spring.
“It felt like a playoff series. Every game was close and high energy, the fans were into it,” said Dodgers utility man Chris Taylor. “They’re a very good team. I expect all of our series against them are going to be similar to this.”
Added Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer, who knocked in the tying and go-ahead runs on Sunday: “They definitely feel like they’re postseason-type games, type atmospheres. It was no secret: I think the whole baseball world was locked into this series. Everybody enjoyed the matchup. They knew both teams matched up very well against each other, and it’s just good baseball overall.”