Epic Los Angeles Dodgers-San Diego Padres season series off to 2-2 start
By Ben Verlander
FOX Sports MLB Analyst
I walked into Dodger Stadium on a chilly Thursday night in Los Angeles and could feel the energy in the building.
I’ve been to countless playoff baseball games, and this game had that same feeling.
The Padres got on the board early behind their stars. A fourth-inning Fernando Tatis Jr. single and stolen base followed by a Manny Machado RBI single had them off and running. They took a 2-0 lead into the seventh inning, threatening to hand the Dodgers their first shutout since 2019.
But the Dodgers woke up in the seventh, hitting back-to-back home runs and releasing the stadium’s pent-up energy.
Then the visitors struck again, scoring in the next half-inning to take a 3-2 lead.
The play of the night came in the bottom of the eighth, when the Dodgers loaded the bases with one out. A hard-hit line drive to second base short-hopped Jake Cronenworth, who knocked it down and flipped it to Tatis at second. Then Tatis threw an absolute rocket to first base to finish the double play.
You could sense the air lifting out of the stadium. That was the Dodgers' shot — their final shot of the night, as it turned out.
The Padres went on to even the season series 2-2, handing the reigning champs their first home loss of 2021.
It was has been more than eight years since a team other than the Dodgers won the NL West, and the past few years, it hasn’t been particularly close.
But recently, the Padres have emerged as an exciting and aggressive challenger.
In 2020, the Padres made the playoffs, and then their season came to an end at the hands of the Dodgers.
Undeterred, they went out and had arguably the best offseason of any MLB team, acquiring two of the best pitchers in the game – Yu Darvish and Blake Snell – for their starting rotation and putting the world on notice that this team is for real.
But the additions to the pitching staff weren’t even the biggest news of their offseason. The Padres also locked down their young superstar, Tatis, with a long-term deal to the tune of 13 years and $330 million.
The Padres were going for it.
But just how good would they be? Would they really be able to compete with the Dodgers?
This past weekend, we got our answer.
That three-game set in San Diego featured some marquee pitching matchups — Clayton Kershaw vs. Darvish on Saturday, Trevor Bauer vs. Snell on Sunday — and did not disappoint. Over the course of the two games, a total of four runs were scored off the starting pitchers in 24 innings of work.
The weekend matchups had it all: a Tatis home run in his first game back from injury, a Mookie Betts game-saving catch, some dazzling pitchers' duels, a bit of extra-inning magic and even a benches-clearing incident.
It was without a doubt a playoff atmosphere in San Diego. It was the start of baseball's best new rivalry.
"This isn’t a rivalry yet," you might say. "The Padres haven't won anything."
Fine, this rivalry doesn't match the historic bad blood between the Dodgers and the Giants. But I’m not exactly pumped to turn on the TV for Dodgers-Giants these days.
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Today, Dodgers-Padres is the rivalry baseball needs. With these two teams, there are exciting players everywhere on the field.
There’s Tatis and Machado holding down the Padres’ offense, with Snell and Darvish heading the starting rotation. On the other side, Betts and Cody Bellinger (when healthy) lead an incredible Dodgers offense, and the rotation features Walker Buehler, Kershaw and the newest addition, Bauer.
This season, there will be playoff energy every time these teams match up.
Last weekend, the Dodgers took the series two games to one, but it easily could’ve been a sweep in either direction. In those three games, the Padres let the baseball world know that they’re for real, and they want the NL West for themselves.
That brings us to Thursday and the start of the four-game set at Dodger Stadium. The fans were locked in, the game was back-and-forth, and the heavyweight bout was back underway.
I couldn’t be more excited for the remaining pitching matchups in this series. Friday night we get Kershaw and Darvish, with the makings of an instant classic.
The matchup I’m looking forward to most comes Saturday, though, when Bauer and Machado will square off.
There’s some tension there.
Over the course of their careers, Machado has owned Bauer to the tune of a .631 batting average with four home runs. Machado knows it, and Bauer knows it, too. And it doesn’t make him happy.
Earlier this year, Bauer was quoted as saying, "We haven’t been in the same division, but now that we are, I saved my best stuff, and I saved it all for now. He had his time. This is my time. I’ll flip that script real quick."
Machado started the season 2-for-2 off Bauer.
This rivalry is brewing right in front of our eyes. This weekend, the stars will be out in L.A. as arguably the two best teams in the league go blow-for-blow.
The Dodgers — whether they admit it or not — can feel that their hold on the division is in jeopardy this year. The fans can feel it. The players can feel it. The coaches can feel it.
There’s a new team in town, and that team is the San Diego Padres.
Ben Verlander spent five years in the Detroit Tigers organization. Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, Verlander was an All-American at Old Dominion University before he joined his brother, Justin, in Detroit as a 14th-round pick of the Tigers in 2013. Follow him on Twitter @Verly32.