The National League West race is expected to be a dogfight until the end, and two teams involved in this rapidly growing rivalry will have their first cracks at each other this weekend at Petco Park. The Dodgers and Padres are both off to good starts, and though it’s still very early in the season, it’s clear that any series played between these two teams is a must-watch.
A roundtable of MLB.com reporters gathered to preview the series, which begins Friday at 10:10 p.m. ET/7:10 PT.
AJ Cassavell (@AJCassavell, Padres beat reporter): It didn’t seem all that likely 10 days ago. But Tatis has been making steady progress, and the Padres are currently optimistic he’ll be able to come off the IL when he’s eligible on Friday. He’s been hitting and fielding with absolutely no issues whatsoever during workouts. I think it’s fair to wonder about the status of Tatis’ shoulder until he proves he can put together a long stretch of games without any setbacks. But right now the Padres seem confident. And a series like this certainly deserves a star like him.
Footer: What’s the vibe out in Cali? Is this series being as hyped as we expected? Sure, it’s early in the season, and it’s the first of several times the teams will play each other this year. But is there a buzz?
Cassavell: Can’t speak for L.A. But in San Diego: Heck yeah, there’s a buzz. It’s probably the biggest regular-season series in Petco Park’s history. Plus, the city just went to a less restrictive tier allowing for 33 percent capacity, so that buzz should carry over to the ballpark.
Juan Toribio (@juanctoribio, Dodgers beat reporter): I think the buzz in L.A. is definitely around the Dodgers and just how good they are. But I think the Dodgers setting up Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw and Trevor Bauer to start this weekend wasn’t a coincidence. A lot of people said the Padres could be the favorites to win the division, and I think the Dodgers took that personally. They want to try and send a message this weekend.
Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports, MLB.com reporter/producer): From a further-away perspective, geographically, this series and this year feels like the chance for the Padres to show what their offseason was all about. Though there shouldn’t ever be too much stock in an April regular-season series, I hope baseball fans across the country are feeling the hype for this series, or start to as the weekend starts. The last time the Padres won the season series with the Dodgers was in 2010: the Padres won 10 head-to-head games, the Dodgers won eight. It’s been a while, but we haven’t seen a Padres team like this in a while either.
Footer: What do you think is the main theme of this series? I feel like if the Padres win it, it sends a very real signal on the San Diego side that this is going to be a race all year. But I feel like from the Dodgers’ standpoint, if they lose, they won’t think much of it and will still feel that they’re very much in the driver’s seat.
Cassavell: One way or another, the overreaction will be greater in S.D., that’s for sure.
Toribio: I think the Dodgers — and the fans — are in a win-win situation. If they lose, they have the ring last year. If they win, it’ll be an “I told you so.”
Cassavell: The Padres have definitely spent a long time looking up in the standings at the Dodgers — and it doesn’t sit well in San Diego. That’ll be a huge theme of the weekend: the Padres looking to reverse that trend. In particular, I think it’ll be fascinating to see how these new arms will impact the rivalry. These two teams spent the winter trying to one-up each other. Now we get Bauer, Blake Snell and Yu Darvish all in one weekend.
Toribio: I think the real buzz will start on Friday. The Dodgers talked about the Padres a lot this offseason (mostly because they were asked) but they’ve tried to downplay those questions over the last few days. But it’ll be interesting to see what happens when that first bat flip happens, or a pitcher gets pumped up after a big strikeout.
Footer: So there’s something real brewing, huh? We could maybe see some fireworks this weekend?
Toribio: I think so. If the Padres come out and start winning, they’re going to let the Dodgers know, and I don’t think the Dodgers will be too happy about that. And if the Dodgers go into San Diego and dominate the series, the Padres’ frustration might take over. Like AJ said, these two teams don’t like each other, so it wouldn’t take much to have these teams ready to get after it.
Cassavell: I think it’s a distinct possibility. Both of these teams are going to be legitimately amped — possibly as amped as they’ve ever been for a three-game series in mid-April. Plus, as we all know, baseball players have long memories. And last year’s season series was full of bat flips and staredowns and jawing between the two sides.
Footer: So what you’re saying is we need to have the popcorn ready to go.
Cassavell: Yep. By first pitch.
Toribio: The Dodgers might get Brusdar Graterol back this weekend. I’m sure the Padres will be ready to go if that happens.
Langs: To AJ’s point about Grisham, I love how already in two weeks, some of the heroes were NOT the guys we expected in the offseason. The usual suspects have been good, of course, and not to take away from them … but Joe Musgrove was probably the least-discussed of the offseason pitcher movement with these two teams, and he’s thrown a no-hitter. Zach McKinstry can’t stop hitting homers for the Dodgers. Shows how great these teams are.
Cassavell: That’s a really good point. The Padres basically spent the offseason doing their best to figure out a way to emulate the Dodgers’ depth. They wanted versatility, so they re-signed Jurickson Profar and added Ha-Seong Kim. They wanted a deep rotation, so they traded for Musgrove even after landing Darvish and Snell. The Dodgers wrote the book on building a deep and complete roster. But the Padres did a pretty solid job of sticking to that script.
Footer: What needs to happen for the Padres to derail the Dodgers this weekend? In other words, realistically, what’s their best chance to hold them down? And vice versa.
Toribio: The Padres are going to have to play pretty close to perfect. They get the benefit of hosting the first series between the teams, so there’s going to be a ton of emotion there. That could play in their favor. But the Dodgers are so good. We knew they would be, but I don’t think we realized just how good they actually are. Sarah mentioned Zach McKinstry. He entered Thursday third on the team in OPS at 1.088.
Cassavell: I think it’s a particularly fun storyline that Ryan Weathers is likely to start Game 1. He made his MLB debut last October in the postseason, against the Dodgers — and more than held his own. Weathers will need to be a tone-setter. Because that L.A. offense is relentless. But the Padres’ pitching staff has been pretty darn good, too.
Langs: With the question of how the Padres can hold the Dodgers down … this feels like a good time to mention that the Dodgers last lost three straight regular-season games in 2019 (three separate streaks).
Cassavell: So you’re saying it’s unlikely the Padres are in first place on Monday, seeing as that’s what it would take. I agree there.
Footer: If you’re selling this series to someone from the East Coast, what is your No. 1 “pitch” to get them to watch?
Toribio: I think the best selling point is that it’ll be the best collection of talent from two teams that you’ll see until the All-Star Game in July. Especially if Tatis is able to get back in the lineup. Oh, and the Dodgers are hoping to get Cody Bellinger back. He’s dealing with a calf issue, so it doesn’t appear likely right now, but getting a former MVP back in the lineup — just what the Dodgers needed.
These teams are absolutely stacked, even with the injuries.
Langs: These teams are so good, and each has plenty of players who are quite effusive on the field. If you’re at home on the East Coast watching, what more could you want than truly feeling the energy of the game through your TV/MLB.TV?
Cassavell: Here’s my pitch: I know it’s April, and there’s an awful lot of baseball left to be played. But I’d encourage East Coast fans to go back and watch some highlights from the regular-season games between these two teams last year. They played some of the best regular-season baseball I’ve ever seen. There were spectacular plays, mammoth dingers, bat flips and legit animosity between the two sides. It’s not playoff baseball. But it’s as close as you’re likely to get in mid-April.
I think Friday will be fun to see how Weathers handles things. Saturday’s Darvish-Kershaw duel will be electric. But I’m most excited to see how Snell fares on Sunday. He finally gets another shot at the Dodgers.
Langs: I was curious of everyone’s takes here: current FanGraphs projections have the Dodgers in the 102-win range (102.5) and Padres in the 95-win range (95.6). This was a popular topic in the offseason, but I’m curious where we all see those landing … and if any of that perception has changed in the mere two weeks so far.
Cassavell: I think it has changed a bit. Padres fans were optimistic at a division title before the season. But that was always somewhat contingent on health, and they’re getting an early glimpse of just how hard it might be to win this division if a few things break against them. The absences of Tatis, Lamet and Austin Nola hurt.
Toribio: I know it’s only been 12 games (through Wednesday), but this Dodgers team has a legit chance to be the best team we’ve ever seen. They were 10-2 after 12 games and you could make a pretty good case that they should have been 12-0. They had a weird home run go against them on Opening Day, and then Kenley Jansen blew a save in Oakland. I think they win 110 games. I really do.
Oh, and they’ve been without Mookie Betts and Bellinger for half of those games.
Cassavell: At this point, I think it’s a very real possibility that the Padres finish with the second-best record in baseball — and perhaps a franchise wins record — and find themselves in a Wild Card Game.
But that’s a long way off, and they’ll have something to say about that this weekend.