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Rivalry stirring, but West still runs through LA

@RichardJustice
September 16, 2020

Trent Grisham’s emphatic home run surely gave the Dodgers a moment of doubt Monday night. Did it represent something more than just one thunderous swing for the Padres? You know, like a changing of the guard in the National League West? As tests go, this was not a monumental one

Trent Grisham’s emphatic home run surely gave the Dodgers a moment of doubt Monday night. Did it represent something more than just one thunderous swing for the Padres? You know, like a changing of the guard in the National League West?

As tests go, this was not a monumental one for a Dodgers team that has won seven straight division championships. On the other hand, tests are tests, and the Dodgers passed another one on Wednesday in becoming the first Major League team to clinch a postseason berth in 2020.

That came after their second victory over the Padres in less than 24 hours, this a 7-5 decision at Petco Park. In doing so, the Dodgers (35-15) took control of the NL West, expanding their lead to 3 1/2 games over the Padres (32-19) with 10 to play, and allowed Dodgers manager Dave Roberts to check a couple of boxes on his to-do list.

Perhaps the larger message of this series was a simpler one: The Dodgers and Padres may be the NL’s two best teams, and these two teams could see one another again in the postseason.

As for the Padres, they’re ready for more. The Dodgers won the season series against the Padres 6-4, but five of the 10 games were decided by two runs or fewer.

How they got there: LA's 8th straight berth

The Padres are 21-7 since mid-August and 10-4 since general manager AJ Preller’s Trade Deadline overhaul. In other words, go time.

“Every game for the most part has been a battle,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said. “Every game has been competitive and could have gone either way. I feel we can go toe-to-toe with them. I feel that way about every team in the league.”

Because the Padres are the hot new thing, there could be a tendency to overlook the Dodgers, who have MLB’s best record and largest run differential (102). They’ve also got the lowest ERA and third-highest scoring offense.

What comes next? Dodgers postseason FAQ

In winning on Tuesday and Wednesday, they got great work from two young pitchers who’ve worked their way into postseason roles. That would be Tony Gonsolin, who allowed one run in seven innings on Tuesday, and Dustin May, who allowed one earned run in 5 1/3 innings on Wednesday.

So while the Dodgers celebrated putting another brick in the wall on Wednesday, they believe there’s much more ahead.

“That’s the first step,” Roberts said. “We still have a lot of baseball to play, but it’s a credit for those guys in the clubhouse. It was a great series. It should be celebrated for sure.”

Postseason seedings

At the time of Grisham’s home run -- and the 7-2 Padres win it sparked on Monday -- the Dodgers had seen a six-game division lead whittled down to 1 1/2 thanks to San Diego’s eight-game streak.

Panic button, anyone?

“We’ve got to come back and regroup and win again tomorrow,” Roberts said.

He could not have been calmer. Even in discussing Grisham’s bat flip -- he didn’t love it -- he spoke in a voice that was both soothing and confident.

By the time the Dodgers had something to celebrate, Roberts had seen the following from his team:

• Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy snapped out of slumps to contribute run-scoring hits on Wednesday. Roberts said he could not envision the Dodgers winning a World Series without those guys hitting.

• May looked healthy after taking a ball off the foot in his last start. His fastball touched 100 mph on multiple occasions, and his slider is becoming an important pitch.

• May didn’t enter the game until the third inning as the Dodgers tinker with various opener looks in fine-tuning for the postseason.

The Dodgers finish the regular season with four games in Colorado and a six-game homestand against the A’s and Angels. For the Padres, who’ve won 21 of their last 28, losing back-to-back games for the first time since mid-August didn’t set off any alarms.

“What makes this group pretty special is the ability to kind of move on and let the day go,” catcher Jason Castro said. “It’s a really loose atmosphere in the clubhouse, and I think that’s what makes dealing with a down series a little bit easier.”

Also, the idea of an October rematch doesn’t hurt either.

“We believe we can make a run,” Tingler said.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.