Padres could be in for heated race with SoCal rivals

May 7th, 2023

SAN DIEGO -- If Friday night was a glimpse of everything that’s possible in San Diego this season, Saturday brought a dose of reality. The Padres have lofty ambitions for 2023, and rightly so. But their goals won’t come easy -- particularly not when they share a division with the Dodgers.

On Saturday, Los Angeles punched back. The Padres, having cruised to a series-opening win on Friday night, fell to the Dodgers, 2-1, at Petco Park. If nothing else, it was a reminder: The National League West race figures to be quite a battle. The Dodgers, having won nine of the past 10 division titles, are still going to take some work to dethrone.

The San Diego offense struggled against Dodgers right-hander Dustin May, who pitched six scoreless frames. notched two of his three hits on the night against May. But the other eight Padres hitters could muster only one -- ’ second-inning infield single.

“That guy was tough on the mound today,” Tatis said. “When you have a guy like that, you’ve got to play pepper with it. There’s not much you can do. If he misses something, that’s when you take advantage of it. But he was making good pitches from the beginning of the game.”

Padres starter was every bit as good as May, minus one pitch. He left a changeup at the top of the zone for Chris Taylor in the top of the fourth inning. Taylor made no mistake, launching a towering home run to the second deck in left field.

That was the only hit Snell allowed all night. He’d walked Will Smith, his first baserunner of the game, one batter prior, meaning Taylor’s blast was a two-run shot. Otherwise, Snell didn’t allow much of anything. He struck out six.

“Two-out walk and one bad pitch,” Snell said. “Turned the whole game around. So I’m pretty frustrated with that. Outside of that, I’m continuing to get better. … I mean, there was a lot of good there.”

Snell’s season started slowly. But he’s seemingly gotten better in each of his recent starts. Saturday was the best Snell has looked all season. His changeup -- minus the one he threw to Taylor -- was particularly effective, getting five whiffs on eight Dodgers swings.

Really, that’s what frustrated Snell most about the pitch he threw to Taylor.

“Just a hanging changeup up in the zone,” Snell said. “It’s the only thing he’s going to hit. If I throw a good changeup, he’s not going to hit it. It’s that simple. He’s a big league hitter. You make a mistake, he’s going to make you pay.”

Outside of Taylor’s blast, Snell and May matched zeros for six innings apiece. The Padres made their push in the eighth, when and Tatis opened the frame with back-to-back doubles off Brusdar Graterol.

Tatis was savvy enough to advance on ’s grounder to third base, waiting for Taylor’s throw across before breaking to third. It was the latest reminder of Tatis’ skillset. On Friday, he brought the power. On Saturday, he showcased his unique playmaking ability on the basepaths.

But Tatis would be stranded at third base on consecutive groundouts from and Bogaerts.

“Get him over to third with one out, and couldn’t get him in there, unfortunately,” said Padres manager Bob Melvin. “That was probably an opportunity we missed.”

The Soto at-bat loomed largest. The Dodgers brought their infield in. With Tatis running, any fly ball would’ve sufficed. Instead, Soto hit a sharp grounder to second. Tatis briefly thought about scampering home, before retreating to third base.

“I’m trying to look for a high pitch, trying to drive it to the outfield,” Soto said. “That was my mindset. … [Graterol] beat me up. I just couldn’t get my barrel out there. I bet you if I get my barrel out there, I could put it in the air, but it is what it is.”

With the loss, the Padres fell to 10-5 since Tatis’ return from his PED suspension. The vibes have been sky-high with him atop their lineup -- and never higher than Friday night when Tatis launched a pair of home runs to help San Diego win the opener.

But the NL West won’t be decided in May. And if the first two games of this series are any indication, the Padres and Dodgers might be in for a season-long back-and-forth.