L.A. dominates NL West showdown, except final inning

July 4th, 2022

LOS ANGELES -- In a vacuum, it’s hard for a club to be disappointed with taking three of four games from the team directly behind it in the divisional standings, as the Dodgers did against the Padres this weekend at Dodger Stadium.

“We had a great series,” said starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw, who struck out eight batters in seven scoreless innings of the Dodgers’ 4-2 loss on Sunday afternoon. “Obviously, we would have loved to win this one, but three out of four against the second-place team is important, and we'll take that.”

Still, the series finale was an anticlimactic ending to what had, up until the ninth inning, been a dominant showing for the Dodgers. And though they exit the four-game set sitting 3 1/2 games ahead of the Padres in the National League West, it was a reminder both that this San Diego squad isn’t going away so easily and neither are L.A.’s bullpen woes.

The Dodgers had the lead early, thanks to back-to-back doubles from Mookie Betts and Trea Turner in the first inning. After that, though, L.A.’s bats were unable to inflict any further damage against Padres rookie MacKenzie Gore. So when Craig Kimbrel was called upon in the top of the ninth, it was to protect a one-run lead.

Things started off well enough for Kimbrel, who looked sharp in striking out Manny Machado. But the next batter, Jake Cronenworth, hit a 100.5 mph comebacker that got Kimbrel in the right scapula, allowing the batter to reach first safely.

Kimbrel threw a few warm-up tosses and felt comfortable enough to stay in, but he then yielded an RBI double to Luke Voit and an RBI single to Eric Hosmer to relinquish the lead. At that point, Kimbrel felt his back tighten up a bit and was removed from the game. X-rays were negative, but Kimbrel will be unavailable for at least a couple of games, according to manager Dave Roberts.

Although Kimbrel threw clean frames against the Padres on both Thursday and Friday, his overall numbers this year -- 4.78 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, three blown saves -- leave something to be desired. As of now, the Dodgers have no plans to remove Kimbrel from his role as closer.

“Right now, I'm not even considering that,” said Roberts. “I think he’s earned that. Also, just given where our bullpen’s at and who we have, to have the ability to deploy guys in different spots, I think has value, as well. So I think that having Craig still as our closer, for me, is pretty easy.”

And even with his struggles, losing Kimbrel even for just a few days is a blow to a Dodgers bullpen that’s already substantially depleted. Daniel Hudson, who has the second-most saves for L.A. this year, is likely out for the year with a torn left ACL. Besides Hudson, five other Dodgers relievers are on the injured list, including four on the 60-day IL.

It’s not just the Dodgers who’ve been dealing with the injury bug this year, of course. The Padres have managed to stay at L.A.’s heels even without their superstar shortstop, Fernando Tatis Jr., who has yet to appear in a game in 2022 due to a left wrist fracture. Machado has been dealing with a left ankle injury recently, and he went 2-for-13 with eight strikeouts during the four-game series.

The next time these clubs face each other -- Aug. 5 at Dodger Stadium -- San Diego’s lineup could look very different.

This crucial series, though, certainly was more positive than negative for the Dodgers, who are now 5-2 against the Padres this year with 12 meetings to go. Barring some substantial shift, one of these teams is likely to win the NL West, while the other seems well positioned to nab one of three available NL Wild Card spots. Every win is a big one, and it’s not difficult to imagine that taking three out of four here could be the difference for the Dodgers in the long run.