NLDS Preview: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. San Diego Padres

Betts. Tatís. Kershaw. Machado. The stars are out in Texas.

(1) Los Angeles Dodgers vs. (4) San Diego Padres

 

In advance of the Division Series starting today, we’re going to break down each series for you. In this article, we cover the top-seeded Dodgers’ series against the fourth-seed Padres, broken down by Noah Scott and Samuel In, respectively.

 

 

Series Schedule

 

All games in the best-of-5 series will be hosted at Globe Life Park in Arlington.

 

Game 1: Tuesday, October 6 at 9:38 p.m. ET on FS1 – Walker Buehler vs. Mike Clevinger

Game 2: Wednesday, October 7 at 9:08 p.m. ET on FS1 – Clayton Kershaw vs. TBD

Game 3: Thursday, October 8 at 9:08 p.m. ET on MLBN – TBD vs. TBD

*Game 4: Friday, October 9 at 9:08 p.m. ET on FS1 – TBD vs. TBD

*Game 5: Saturday, October 10 at 8:08 p.m. ET on FS1 – TBD vs. TBD

*If necessary

 

Los Angeles Dodgers

 

Lineup

 

Dodgers Projected Lineup

(Source: Baseball Savant; Fangraphs)

 

The Dodgers offense enters the playoffs as one of the most potent in baseball, trotting out a star-studded lineup led by Mookie Betts and Corey Seager. Despite all of the excitement surrounding their dominant +136 run differential and league-best 5.82 runs per game during the regular season, Dodgers bats did not light the world on fire in their two games against Milwaukee. They relied instead upon timely hits from Betts and others and hit just one home run. While it was just two games, it was not the offensive onslaught expected from such a talented lineup. The incredible depth of the Dodgers roster affords them one of the longest lineups in baseball, with a bench full of players that could be starters on other teams. If they can just play up to their potential, they should have no problem scoring runs in the postseason.

Following the scorching-hot bats of Betts and Seager in the lineup is the steady presence of Justin Turner. Though he turns 36 in November, Turner’s production has not slowed in 2020, and he posted a 140 wRC+ in the abbreviated season. While injuries are a concern with Turner, the DH spot will allow him to get off of his feet in the field and hopefully limit those issues. In the past, Justin Turner has been one of the Dodgers’ best hitters in October, and they will be relying on him once again to have quality at-bats in the postseason.

The largest question marks for the Dodgers lineup entering the division series are the slumping bats of Max Muncy and the reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger. The pair both struggled intermittently throughout the regular season and didn’t look very dialed in against Milwaukee when they combined to go 2-12 in the wild card round with six strikeouts and two walks. Los Angeles may be able to scrape by and win without strong production from the two sluggers, but if Muncy and Bellinger can heat up, their offense will be nearly unstoppable.

Rounding out the starting lineup are Chris Taylor and AJ Pollock, both of whom seem to be peaking at just the right time for playoffs. Taylor enjoyed his best season since his 2017 breakout campaign and posted a .991 OPS with six homers in September. Pollock, meanwhile, benefitted from finally having a healthy year, and his 132 wRC+ in 2020 was his best since his All-Star season in 2015. He will be looking to redeem himself from his abysmal playoff performance last year, when he went 0-13 with 11 strikeouts against the Nationals.

If the Dodgers weren’t already stacked enough, Will Smith has emerged as one of the best hitting catchers in MLB this season, and led all backstops with a 163 wRC+, despite having dreadful batted ball luck the first month of the season. It is expected that Smith will be the primary catcher for the Dodgers throughout their playoff run, with the exception of days when Clayton Kershaw pitches, in which case Austin Barnes will be behind the plate. Barnes has undergone his own mini hitting renaissance this year after receiving some pointers from Mookie Betts, and his .244 batting average was way up from his previous two seasons where he hovered around the Mendoza line. His RBI single in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series also helped to cash in on a Dodgers rally against Brandon Woodruff, who had stymied the offense until that point. Barnes is also in the 100th percentile for pitch framing according to Baseball Savant, with a 53.8% strike rate. Once again, he will most likely only be the backstop when Kershaw is on the mound, but any offensive production he offers on top of that will be icing on the cake. Even though Barnes will be handling Kershaw’s starts, it is still possible that Smith will see at-bats as the Dodgers’ DH in those games, as Dave Roberts has been vocal about wanting to keep Smith’s hot bat in the lineup.

Additionally, the Dodgers’ home run happy offense is going to have to contend with one of the least power-friendly stadiums in baseball in the NLDS, the brand-new Globe Life Park in Arlington. Globe Life Park gave up the fewest round-trippers in 2020, averaging less than a home run per game (.570 HR/G), and so the Dodgers will be tested to get timely hits if the ball is not carrying.

While they haven’t quite clicked yet in this postseason, this Dodgers lineup has the potential to be the best in baseball on any given day. Look for them to try and explode against the Padres’ depleted pitching staff in the series.

Roster Update: The Dodgers have released their updated 28-man roster for the NLDS. Dylan Floro and Gavin Lux were added to the roster, and Edwin Ríos and third catcher Keibert Ruiz were dropped.

Rotation

 

Dodgers Projected Rotation

(Source: Baseball Savant; Fangraphs)

 

Dodgers pitchers performed as expected in the wild card series as they smothered the Milwaukee offense in both games, surrendering only two runs. Walker Buehler took the mound in Game 1 and pitched through blister concerns to strike out eight in just four innings of work. He only threw 73 pitches in the start, but his stuff looked good and he had a 40% CSW on the night. The only damage against him in his start came off of the bat of Orlando Arcia, who crushed a low fastball that leaked back out over the heart of the plate for a two-run homer. In his career against San Diego, Buehler is 4-0 with a 1.36 ERA, but was hit hard in his one start against the Padres in 2020, and lasted just five innings after serving up three solo home runs on August 3. Going into the series with San Diego, Buehler should be able to build upon his 2.90 career playoff ERA, but the health of his blister remains one of the largest questions for the Dodgers in the postseason.

 

 

Clayton Kershaw started the second game against the Brewers, and put on the best playoff performance of his career to date. He struck out a career-high 13 across eight shutout innings of work, allowing just three singles with one walk on an efficient 93 pitches. His velocity, which has been a major factor in his success this year, remained elevated and his fastball averaged 91.8 mph through the evening. His slider continued to be deadly, and he kept hitters off balance with his gorgeous looping curveball. Granted, the Milwaukee offense was hardly the best in the bracket, but Kershaw was still as effective as he has ever pitched in October. That should continue into the series against the Padres, as Kershaw has been historically good against San Diego in his career with a 2.03 ERA and .192 opponent batting average in 261 innings. Dave Roberts will once again be starting Buehler and Kershaw in the first two games of the series, which will be a nasty one-two punch if they keep their momentum rolling into the NLDS.

The Dodgers’ Game 3 starter is less clear, but will likely be one of either Julio Urías, Dustin May, or Tony Gonsolin. Urías performed well in a bulk role in the first game of the wild card round and shut out the Brewers through three intense innings while tallying five strikeouts. Any of these three pitchers could also be deployed in a similar role out of the bullpen, or even be used to piggyback one another at some point during the series. While the Dodgers have Buehler and Kershaw locked in as their top two starters for the postseason, they will need at least one of Urías, May, or Gonsolin to step up as well to lock things down as their third starter.

 

Bullpen

 

Dodgers Projected Bullpen

(Source: Baseball Savant; Fangraphs)

 

Even with excellent hitting and starting pitching, the Dodgers will only go as far as their bullpen will take them in the playoffs. Luckily for Los Angeles, their depth extends to their reliever corps, which had the second-lowest bullpen ERA in baseball this year at 2.74.

In the wild card series, the Dodgers bullpen was able to clamp down against the Brewers, with scoreless performances coming from Urías, Blake Treinen, Brusdar Graterol, and Kenley Jansen. Jansen’s performance will once again be a major key for the Dodgers to return to the World Series again this year, and despite receiving the Reliever of the Month award in August, the closer has had some shaky outings in 2020. Following Wednesday night’s white-knuckle save, manager Dave Roberts observed that his closer’s cutters lacked “teeth,” in part due to Jansen’s diminished velocity on his signature pitch. To avoid the bullpen pitfalls of previous years, Roberts will need to have a quick hook on Jansen so that a bad outing doesn’t get too out of hand if he doesn’t have his best stuff. Despite Jansen’s long and excellent tenure as the Dodgers’ closer, he is no longer the pitcher he was in 2017. He can still be a very effective reliever, but both Jansen and the Dodgers would benefit from prioritizing matchups with their bullpen in the 9th inning rather than turn the lead over to a set pitcher. The depth of their bullpen is one of the team’s strengths, and they should utilize it.

Beyond Jansen, the L.A. bullpen will rely heavily on Treinen, Jake McGee, and Adam Kolarek in high-leverage moments. The young fireballer Brusdar Graterol will also be called upon in tight games, and may even come on to close teams out with his 100+ mph sinker. Dave Roberts has shown the willingness to go to his young pitchers in big spots, and so Graterol and rookie Victor González are likely to pitch some high-stress innings as well. Rounding out the group are Pedro Báez and the infamous Joe Kelly, both of whom have strong October résumés and plenty of playoff experience. Dylan Floro is also likely to be added to the NLDS roster after being left off of the squad in the first round.

 

San Diego Padres (37-23)

 

Here you go, Padres fans, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the opportunity to eliminate the Los Angeles Dodgers in the playoffs.

Morale must be high after back-to-back scrappy wins against the St. Louis Cardinals to complete the series comeback. With the bullpen pitching 16 innings in the last two games, the Padres were able to claim its first playoff series in 22 years.

But the Dodgers are an entirely different beast. This team had the best regular-season record in the MLB and only lost a single series in that time frame, so defeating the Dodgers will be no easy task, but not impossible. Let’s see how the Padres match up.

 

Offense

 

Padres Projected Lineup

 

In the Wild Card round, teams that hit more home runs than their opponent went 12-0. If this is any indicator of how the NLDS will go, the Padres’ lineup at least gives them a chance at making it to the next round. The team hit 95 home runs in the regular season, fourth-most in the MLB, and a big reason for this is because there is power in every slot of this lineup.

Trent GrishamFernando Tatis. Jr.Manny Machado, and Wil Myers all hit for double-digit home runs in 2020. The group combined to hit five home runs in its previous series against the Cardinals, with every member except Grisham contributing. Tatis Jr. seems to have shaken off his slump, hitting a home run in four of his previous six games after not hitting a single long bomb in the 14 games before this stretch.

Eric Hosmer was also on track to join this hard-hitting crew before missing almost two weeks due to injury. He’s hit for a line of .280/.286/.400 in his return which is below his cumulative slash of .287/.333/.517 in 2020. He only had two hits in 12 AB’s against the Cardinals, but he did have a clutch 2-RBI double that helped the Padres clinch the series.

However, one player that looked really good in his return from injury was Tommy Pham. After missing over a month due to a hand injury, Pham put on a show against the Cardinals. He went six for nine with two doubles in the first two games of the series before he seemed to reaggravated his hand at the end of Game 2. He still ended up starting Game 3 but failed to pick up a single hit in four at-bats.

Should he not be able to play, the Padres have a formidable replacement in Jurickson Profar. Profar was used off the bench in the final two games of the series against the Cardinals but went four for seven in his limited at-bats. He was on a tear to end the season as he slashed .351/.380/.500 with two home runs and 11 RBI’s in September.

One of the wild cards for San Diego might be their youth. Sure, players like Tatis Jr. and Grisham are very young, but the team has players with even less MLB-experience like Jake Cronenworth and Luis Campusano. Cronenworth played 54 games in his debut season and led all MLB rookies with a .324 xBA. He also hit his fifth home run of the season in Game 3 against St. Louis. Yet unlike Cronenworth, Campusano has only played in a single MLB game in his career. In his debut this season, he only got one hit, but it was an opposite-field line drive that cleared the wall for a home run. He could prove to be a key factor should the Padres need a big hit.

With all these qualified hitters spread throughout the lineup, hitting shouldn’t be the Padres’ biggest concern; the pitching should be.

 

Rotation

 

A Possible Padres Rotation

 

As I am writing this, I still have no clue if Mike Clevinger or Dinelson Lamet will be available for the NLDS (Editor’s note: Clevinger will be starting game one according to the roster released after the article was filed). If they’re not healthy, the Padres have a lot of question marks in their rotation. One of Clevinger and Lamet’s greatest strengths is their ability to limit the long ball. Remember how teams that hit more home runs than their opponent went undefeated in the wild card round this season? Well, that’s bad news for the Padres considering the Dodgers hit 118 home runs in the regular season, 15 more than their closest competitor. In the regular-season matchup between these two rivals, the team that hit more home runs went 6-1. So, considering Clevinger and Lamet only give up an average of 0.5 and 0.7 home runs every nine innings, respectively (both of them significantly below the MLB average of 1.3), losing them would be a huge hit for the Padres.

The Friars suffer from the loss of one or both of these pitchers because it essentially means that Chris Paddack must start a game. Paddack is coming off a rough Game 1 start against the Cardinals in which he only pitched 2.1 innings, giving up six runs in that span. His 2.1 HR/9 is also a bad sign considering the Dodgers’ power.

Zach Davies is also coming off a bad outing. In Game 2, he only got through two innings and gave up four runs in that span. Simply put, the Padres’ starting pitchers did not produce. In the entire three-game wild card series, San Diego’s starting pitchers gave the team a total of 4.1 innings, but lucky for them, the bullpen came through when the team needed them the most.

 

Bullpen

 

A Possible Padres Bullpen

 

In the final game against the Cardinals, the Padres’ bullpen stringed together a nine-inning shutout. This bodes well going forward, but one should still be cautious with this crew.

Closer Trevor Rosenthal gave up an earned run in each of his first two appearances against the Cardinals. He walked three hitters in that span after only walking a single hitter in 10 IP with the Padres in the regular season.

The Friars’ usual eighth-inning guy, Drew Pomeranz also has given up five runs (albeit two unearned) in his last four appearances after not giving up a run (earned or unearned) throughout the rest of the 2020 season. This might just be an outlier as he has looked dominant for the majority of the season, setting his career-high K% with 39.7%.

However, one bullpen arm that may struggle is Adrian Morejon. He opened four games in the regular season and with so many question marks in the starting rotation, he might have to open again at some point in this series. His big issue is that he’s given up home runs in five of his nine regular-season appearances and has a team-worst HR/9 of 3.3. Again, with the Dodgers’ slugging power, this could be a huge red flag for the Padres.

 

 

Team History

 

As two of the strongest teams in 2020, it seemed inevitable that the Padres and Dodgers would match up in the postseason. The two NL West teams have had a fairly lopsided history in years past, with the Dodgers emerging with the winning line at 33-15 dating back to 2018. Granted, these 2020 Padres are almost an entirely new team compared to previous seasons, and in 2020 the two squads battled it out to a much more even 6-4 record, once again in favor of the Dodgers. Those games were much closer than past matchups, though the Dodgers outscored San Diego by 12 runs during their regular-season series.

The two teams have also not been without their drama in 2020, mostly stemming from a late-season bat flip from Trent Grisham that Dave Roberts took exception to. It was another ill-founded criticism of the electric Padres, who have taken baseball by storm with their high energy and love for the game. San Diego will most likely use those comments as additional fuel for their players, who are looking to upset their division’s juggernaut on the national stage.

 

Prediction

 

San Diego has quickly established itself as one of the most explosive teams in baseball, but they aren’t quite yet to the point where they can defeat the depth of the Dodgers in the playoffs. The Los Angeles lineup will simply outlast the Padres’ thin pitching, and will eventually expose their overworked bullpen over the course of the NLDS. That said, anything can happen in a short series, and San Diego cannot be counted out after how well they have played this year. However, everything points to Los Angeles having the upper hand in 2020. Dodgers in four.

-Noah Scott

My heart is saying yes, but my head is saying no. The Padres have too many question marks in their rotation. Even if Clevinger and Lamet are cleared to play, there’s no guarantee they’ll be the same pitchers they were before their injuries. If the Cardinals could score nine runs in a game, there’s no telling what the Dodgers will do. I do hope I’m wrong, but Dodgers in four.

-Samuel In

Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@FreshMeatComm on Twitter)

Noah Scott

Noah Scott is a long-suffering baseball writer and knuckleball connoisseur. If you want to talk old timey baseball names, traffic on the 405, or lukewarm hip-hop opinions you can find him on Twitter @noahascott6

2 responses to “NLDS Preview: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. San Diego Padres”

  1. Avatar theKraken says:

    I am shocked that y’all are consistently wanting to draw any conclusions from a few 2 game series. That means nothing for sure.

    One of the major story-lines here is whatever SD gets from their rotation. What a strange situation! It is entirely possible that they get absolutely hamstrung by that staff but they could also be nails. I would guess that this series will be decided by those SP… which is also saying the bats and their ability to silence them on both sides. If things are getting bullpen heavy, then the game might well already be out of hand. There won’t be any atrocious STL bullpen to give the series back to the other team.

    With the Dodgers, I think you are undervaluing Pollock. He has been really good all year. Furthermore, I have watched a lot of his ABs – I think he has been relatively unfortunate. I couldn’t disagree ore that LAD success is tied to its bullpen. That is the least important part of the equation by a mile.. specially when you consider that the “rotation” has plenty of swingmen in it. LAD made a huge mistake not using Kenley to close out game 2. They created a problem where one did not previously exist by undermining Kenley’s save in game 1 and using a guy who has no business in that role in game 2. If you think Kenley has problems, how do you like Brusdar’s K rate? There were two better options – either let Kersh get the SHO or let Kenley close it out. They made an unforgivable mistake that could very well cost them as I think they put a lot of undue pressure and doubt on Kenley. There is no way in hell that anyone who watched that Kenley save could call it a white-knuckle variety. I thought he looked as good as he has in his previous 7 clean outings. He easily dispatched with the first two hitters, lost feel for a moment and walked a guy then embarrassed Yelich. The only way you see that as white-knuckle if by watching the game feed and not understanding that Kenley isn’t about teeth – his cutter certainly was cutting, but Dave Roberts has never been a guy that always makes sense. Dave Roberts is again a moron for criticizing his own player in a successful appearance – that’s not his job. The idea that they need to abandon the guy that takes care of them all the time is garbage. Yeah, try something new mid-way through the playoffs lol. The fact that they have created that question makes an implosion all the more likely – just pure stupidity. How quickly people forget that LADs season ended last year when they went away from him in a decisive game.. but yeah lets do that again. Don’t get me wrong, he gives up some HR but being imperfect doesn’t mean that he isn’t their best option. Don’t trust your guys and see how that works out.

    Regardless of how much I despise the annual butchery and stupidity related to how LAD manages their bullpen down the stretch this projects to be a good series. Its not all that often that we get two highly capable teams matching up in a series. The other one is TB v NYY but this one is better. Basically LAD is the better team and playing better but that SD offense can really erupt at any moment. There is also that reality that LADs pitchers have had a lot of postseason hiccups. For me, I guess this might be the WS – at least in terms of a fun match-up on paper this is that. Now that I say that, I wish this were a 7 game series. Of course, I think LAD wins but it is a random 5 game set so who knows? I will certainly be hoping that SD loses as none of us will ever hear the end of it if they win the WS. Tingler seems like a loose-cannon that will only get worse with success – at least in terms of the stupid things that come out of him mouth. Like Roberts, he is quick to sell out his players to create a sound byte. This is the role of the contemporary manager – give an interview that makes the press happy and the players in your own clubhouse are secondary. He made that 9th inning Tatis GS from a while back so much worse. He also sold out Cronenworth in the last series who actually made no meaningful base running mistakes of any consequence. It makes me wonder if his knowledge of on-field baseball is really that limited of if he is just quick to say what people pressure him to agree with. In any case, that is generally what I would call a lack of leadership.

  2. Avatar theKraken says:

    Game 2 was one of the most frustrating games I have ever seen in my life. Combined with the tragic management of game 1 LAD won the battle but lost the war. The game 1 decision to ride the trusted bullpen arms in a non-save situation was just pure nonsense.. as was the decision to lift May after 2 innings. Heck, riding WB into the 5th would be far more defensible than literally anything that happened.

    Game 2. One of the biggest mistakes/decisions in that game was when Barnes ran LAD out of the fourth inning. That is representative of the state of baseball. You NEVER make the first or third out at third base, but for some reason the backup catcher tried to go from first to third on a ball to left field with LADs best hitter on deck vs a struggling righty. Simply not making that mistake probably would have broken the game open right there. Seager did double to start the next frame. I don’t know that anyone even recognizes how dumb that was. The announcing crew didn’t mention it. Contrast that with the non-mistakes that Cronenworth made in the previous round and you have the state of baseball analysis in a nutshell.

    On to the rest of the mismanagement. Pulling Kershaw after 6 is indefensible. Kershaw was dealing but you would have to watch the game to know that. Sure he gave up two base-runners / runs in the 6th but in the 7th SD had their 7-8-9 due up and two of them were left handed. That right there is why times through the order is a bad stat. Most guys would have escaped that situation unscathed including the left-handed Kershaw who was not throwing the ball poorly, nor was his pitch count lofty. Lifting him for a lefty would be defensible, but instead they chose to abuse a right handed pitcher with bad matchups. It is officially time to ask what LAD is doing with Treinen. Treinen was not up to the task as he couldn’t even get through the inning and now he is going to be unavailable for game 3. That brings them to another terrible move. Make no mistake that Graterol essentially blew the game – he got bailed out as much as a guy can. If you ever thought you could trust Brusdar, he just proved you can’t. A far more reasonable move would have been to ride Kersh through the 9 hitter (lefty) and then bring in Treinen to face Tatis. They brought in an unproven highly replaceable guy to face Tatis with the game on the line and he blew it (kind of). Yes, I am declaring Brusdar to be a generic level RP. Sure his heat looks cool in a GIF or a gamecast but he doesn’t fool anyone – you can see that in his K rate which is anemic. The 9th inning was predictably a disaster. While nobody blew anything, I think they now don’t have a closer. I think Kenley looked tired. That would make sense considering he threw on back-to-back days (for some reason). He got through the first hitter pretty easily, then looked good against the second hitter but it was a long AB which I think took its toll on him. While I would have left him in to close it out, he was out of gas… so again it really kind of worked out how it did for Treinen in that he wasn’t really ready for the big spot. I can’t really ague that leaving Kenley out there for 30+ pitches would have been a great idea… but now their bullpen is also shooting out black smoke so I don’t know. I think this is all a result of Roberts putting his foot in his mouth and over-committing to some weird combination of Treienen/Brusdar/Kenley as some three headed monster. Perhaps they should have worked that out before trying it in the postseason. I am saving the best for last. You never use Joe Kelly. Sure he gets the save, but he got 1 of 3 guys out. It is entirely liekly that Kenley could have done that.. or anyone else on the roster! At the end of the day, this is a good time to realize that the moves don’t decide the game.. unless you just don’t give your players a chance to play. LAD has made bad moves on top of bad moves, following bad moves in the prior series and they are ahead two games to one.

    On a personal note, it is sweet watching SD act like a bunch of spoiled babies when things don’t go their way. Those guys pout like nobody else. That is the flip-side of bat flips and overzealous celebrations. They don’t enjoy the game more or have more fun than guys that act like professionals, they are just poor sports. On that note, Brusdar is something else! I would not try to build anything around a guy like that, including a playoff bullpen. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt in that he was just antagonizing Machado (understandable), but that guy seems like he might have a screw loose. MIN was pretty quick to move on… I can imagine the emotional roller coaster of both blowing and saving the game on the same pitch, but that reaction was…. literally impossible to describe. Did folks see when he gave Machado an earful to start the next inning. That was a punk move IMO. I thought it was funny, but that was also selfish. They now have a war with SD as opposed to a game and that is great for media, but kind of sad for two really good teams playing some good baseball underneath all of the weird stuff happening on the surface.

    Game three should be a glorified rest day for LAD. I think HOU made a mistake in taking off game three, but LAD has put themselves in a very bad spot. They don’t have May or their only two reliable RP available (I would think), so the prudent move is letting your worst pitchers give this one away. Keeping it close enough to fry the SD pen is really the goal. Granted, I wouldn’t put a gem out of some combination of Urias and Gonsolin out of the picture but personally I would consider saving them to just nail the door shut in later games.

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