The San Diego Padres knocked off the 101-win New York Mets in the National League wild-card series.
Awaiting them in the NL Division Series is an even bigger challenge: the 111-win Los Angeles Dodgers.
“They’re hot and we’ve been hot for seven months,” a smiling — or was it smirking? — Dodgers slugger Freddie Freeman said Monday.
Call it a postseason Freeway Series.
“It’s going to be a very intense series,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
Unlike the regular season.
The Southern California rivals were separated by a whopping 22 games in the NL West, with the Dodgers controlling first place for much of the time and the Padres finishing second.
“They handed it to us pretty good this year, so we realize what we’re up against,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said. “It feels a little bit better now that we’re not looking at the standings.”
That’s not the only way in which the Dodgers dominated the Padres. Los Angeles went 15-4 against them, never lost a series and outscored them 109-47.
“No one cares that we won 111 games starting tomorrow or what the head-to-head matchups were during the season,” Freeman said. “It’s what you can do tomorrow, the next day, and the next day.”
Still, the Dodgers are solid favorites coming into the best-of-five NLDS that begins Tuesday night in Los Angeles. In Game 1, right-hander Mike Clevinger takes the mound for the Padres against left-hander Julio Urías, a 17-game winner for the Dodgers.
“They know you. They know what pitches you’re going to throw in certain situations, but then also you know them,” Urías said in Spanish through a translator. “That’s kind of the beautiful thing about tomorrow is that it’s going to be a clash of titans.”
The Dodgers are well-rested, having been been off since closing out the regular season a week ago. While the Padres flew cross-country to outscore the Mets 16-8 in winning the wild-card series in three games, the Dodgers played simulated games in their empty stadium.
“It doesn’t feel like you’ve been playing baseball for seven months when you get on that field tomorrow,” Freeman said. “Nothing hurts. You’re not tired. It’s just kind of like the first day of spring training. Everyone is excited, ready to roll.”
The Dodgers gathered at a high-end steakhouse on Sunday night for a team dinner with the decisive Padres-Mets game on in the background. Watching Padres pitcher Joe Musgrove getting his ears checked for illegal substances by the umpire, “it got a little louder in the room,” Freeman said, smiling.
BOLSTERING THE RANKS
San Diego got better at the trade deadline by adding closer Josh Hader and two-time All-Star Juan Soto, who was a teammate of current Dodger Trea Turner on the Washington Nationals.
Soto was 10-for-58 with three RBI against the Dodgers during the season. He drew 17 walks against their pitching.
The Dodgers signed Freeman in March, adding offensive punch to an already potent lineup. Freeman hit .325 and finished .001 points behind the Mets’ Jeff McNeil for the NL batting title.
Freeman’s numbers against the Padres this season were outstanding. He had a .986 OPS and .343 batting average while notching 17 RBI in his 19 games against them.
Freeman credits his team’s ability to work pitchers for their offensive success.
“Even if you throw five shutout innings against us, you’re going to be 100 pitches, usually 105 pitches and you’re out,” he said, “and then you are going to ask four relievers to be on their A-game as well. That’s a very tall task to do.”
ALMOST LIKE HOME
The last time the Padres were in the playoffs in a full season in front of fans in 2006, Roberts was their leadoff hitter and left fielder. He’ll be able to sleep in his own bed during the NLDS since he lives in the San Diego area.
GAME 2 STARTERS
Right-hander Yu Darvish, a 16-game winner, starts for the Padres in Game 2 on Wednesday against left-hander Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers’ three-time Cy Young Award winner. By using Urías in Game 1, he would be set up to start a winner-take-all Game 5, if needed. “This arguably will be our deepest 13-man pitching staff,” Andrew Friedman, Dodgers president of baseball operations, said recently.
BUEHLER’S NIGHT OUT
Walker Buehler will be on the mound for Game 2 on Wednesday — to toss out the ceremonial first pitch. The two-time All-Star who helped the Dodgers win the 2020 World Series had his second career Tommy John surgery in August. He’s not expected back until the 2024 season. Buehler was 6-3 with a 4.02 ERA in 12 starts this season before having surgery.