(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.
All games in the best-of-5 series will be hosted at Globe Life Park in Arlington.
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
Los Angeles Dodgers
|Spot||Name||Position||AVG||HR||RBI||wRC+||wOBA||xwOBA||Hard Hit %||WAR|
(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.
(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.
Walker Buehler said the blister is same as it has been. "Not worrying about it too much," he said. "Same routine."
— Ken Gurnick (@kengurnick) October 5, 2020
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.
(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.
|2||Fernando Tatis Jr.||SS||0.277||0.571||17||45||0.298||0.612|
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 Grisham, Fernando 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@FreshMeatComm on Twitter)