With all due respect to New York Yankees–Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals–Chicago Cubs fans, the hottest rivalry in baseball these days lives in Southern California. The San Diego Padres–Los Angeles Dodgers rivalry has reached another level, especially after their latest series. It is now obvious that the new Padres–Dodgers rivalry is here to stay.
Although it is barely the end of April, the SoCal foes played October-caliber baseball throughout every matchup so far. Each game lived up to the hype, featuring tight races into extra innings, flashy game-saving plays, and moments of historical significance. Los Angeles took home the first series 2-1 at Petco Park, but San Diego stormed back with a vengeance and snagged the second series 3-1 at Dodger Stadium. Let’s break down a few storylines from the first two series of Padres–Dodgers baseball.
Padres–Dodgers, Intense as Ever
Phenomenal pitching and stellar defense kept these matchups neck and neck. Clutch offense late in games eventually lifted each team over the other multiple times. In each of the seven games played so far, the largest lead taken by either squad before the sixth inning was two runs. Over half of the 220 at-bats after the sixth inning had the game tied or the tying run at the plate or on base. The only times three or more runs were tacked onto either team’s lead were in the 12-inning series opener on April 16 (Dodgers won 11-6), the eighth inning of last Sunday’s battle (Padres won 5-2), the ninth inning last Friday (Padres won 6-1), and the 11-inning thriller Sunday night (Padres won 8-7).
“We’re pretty evenly matched,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “It’s going to be fun. I don’t know how many more times we have these guys but every one of these games could have gone either way.” Those moments in baseball––when the game is so close that each team’s will to win is not only palpable, but it sweeps across every corner of the stadium––those are the sports’ best. Those make the long grind of 162 games worth it. The Padres–Dodgers rivalry is bound to continue with equal intensity. Dave Roberts may not be counting, but 12 of the 138 games left come against the Boys in Blue.
One ubiquitous adage in sports is that defense wins championships. Yes, we are still six months away from the World Series, but defense was the deciding factor in these playoff-like games. Three defensive masterpieces (one for the Dodgers, two for the Padres) made major differences in three of the seven games: Mookie Betts’ diving catch, Jake Cronenworth and Fernando Tatis Jr.’s dazzling double play, and Manny Machado’s snag at the hot corner. Here are clips of each one if you need a reminder.
— Bring It To LA 🏆 (@BringItToLA) April 23, 2021
4-6-3 TO MAINTAIN THE ONE-RUN LEAD. 😱 pic.twitter.com/I0iNxw6vZy
— MLB (@MLB) April 23, 2021
— San Diego Padres (@Padres) April 24, 2021
All three plays were pulse-pounders. The outcomes of each of those games would have been entirely different had those plays gone differently. If Betts dropped that ball in centerfield, Tommy Pham would have tied the game at 2-2 in the ninth. Say Cronenworth failed to knock that ground ball down. The Dodgers would have taken the lead with at least two runs scored. If Machado didn’t leap up for that grab, Betts would have knotted the game at 3-3. So, defense does win ball games, even the ones in April.
Moments for the History Books
Fernando Tatis Jr.’s bat is back, and so is his smile. After 10 days on the IL with a shoulder injury, Tatis returned just in time for the first game against the Dodgers at Petco Park. His bat was back in the lineup, but it was obvious he was pressing at the plate. His batting average in the 11 games he played in was .134 and his OPS was .591. He looked flat in the infield and around the bases, and most importantly, his flashy smile had faded. Four rivalry games later, Tatis turned things around. On Thursday night he scored the first run of the game off a single and a stolen base. The Padres went on to win 3-2.
Tatis vs Kershaw
Tatis made history on Friday night by hitting two home runs off of three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw on the 22nd anniversary of his dad, Fernando Tatis Sr., hitting two grand slams in one inning at Dodger Stadium.
Dodger Stadium homers run in the Tatis family. pic.twitter.com/OzGMCQtTyw
— MLB Vault (@MLBVault) April 24, 2021
Tatis vs Bauer
On Saturday, Tatis ordered the Friday special by hitting another pair of home runs, this time against reigning NL Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer. He became the first player to ever hit two home runs against former Cy Young winners in back-to-back games. After each bomb he made sure to add his own flare to the Padres–Dodgers rivalry with a couple of celebrations and a beaming grin.
Anything you can do, eye can do better. pic.twitter.com/LzXWzzI0Ak
— San Diego Padres (@Padres) April 25, 2021
Tatis returned Sunday with another home run and helped the Padres win in extras 8-7. He finished the series going 8-for-18 with five home runs, six RBI, nine runs scored, and three stolen bases. His batting average and OPS, while not quite on the leaderboards just yet, are now .246 and .970. Not a bad weekend for San Diego’s young superstar.
“I think he’s starting to find that rhythm and timing, which is great to see,” Jayce Tingler said. The biggest thing he brings to us is that personality and that smile. And seeing him start to get that confidence, it bleeds off on us, it bleeds off on his teammates.”
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