Dave Roberts to Padres: ‘Bring it on’

January 22nd, 2021

The Padres signed Manny Machado two winters ago, and this offseason, they traded for 2018 American League Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell and '20 National League Cy runner-up Yu Darvish, among other notable deals. What they are really doing is making a big move at the Dodgers, who have won the NL West every year since '13 and played in three of the past four World Series -- and who happen to be the reigning champs.

The other day I told Dave Roberts, once of the best managers in baseball since he got to Dodger Stadium, something he already knew about the Padres, whom Los Angeles swept in the NL Division Series en route to its first title since 1988.

“They’re coming for you,” I told him.

Here was his response:

“Bring it on.”

There is no reason for Roberts or the Dodgers to think otherwise. They were the team to beat going into the short 2020 season, even after the disappointments of the '17 and ’18 World Series, and the way the Nationals came back in the late innings from a 3-1 deficit in Game 5 of the '19 NLDS against Los Angeles. The Dodgers came back from all that, came all the way back from being down, 3-1, in the '20 NL Championship Series vs. the Braves, before finally winning it all for the first time in 32 years.

In the process, the Dodgers didn’t just show the baseball world how much talent they have. They also showed how much athletic character they have. It was something to see. They are still something to see. And they are still loaded, with three former Most Valuable Player Award winners in Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger and Clayton Kershaw, along with Corey Seager, who was the NLCS MVP and followed that up by being the World Series MVP against the Rays. Betts is 28, Seager is 26, Bellinger is 25. Walker Buehler, now L.A.'s Game 1 guy ahead of the great Kershaw, is 26.

“There hasn’t been a group of four [Betts, Bellinger, Seager, Buehler] this talented and approaching or in their primes in a generation,” Roberts told me last fall. “The three position players play both sides of the ball at an elite level.”

They do. Buehler and Kershaw pitch at an elite level. And even though they both pitched like stars this past postseason, maybe the most important pitcher the Dodgers had was the kid, Julio Urías, still just 24, who came out of the bullpen to pitch three perfect innings to close out the Braves series, and then pitched 2 1/3 perfect frames, with four strikeouts, to close out the World Series. He also started for Los Angeles twice during those playoffs, and his postseason record ended up being 4-0.

It is also worth remembering that the Dodgers are finally going to add David Price to their roster, after Price elected not to play in the 2020 season because of COVID-19 concerns. He came to L.A. in the Betts deal, and now it’s as if the Dodgers traded for Price all over again.

You may be hearing that the Padres are the team to beat now, and not just in the NL West. But the Dodgers are still the team to beat. When it was all on the line for them against the Braves, and they looked as if they were staring at heartbreak again, they won seven of their final nine games and looked like LeBron James and the Lakers in the process.

Does that mean the Dodgers are going to remain as quiet as they’ve been over the past couple of months while the Padres, Blue Jays and Mets keep busy? It doesn’t. Los Angeles doesn’t have a lot of room if it wants to stay under the threshold for the Competitive Balance Tax, something it managed to do in both 2017 and ’18 after paying significant penalties before that. But the Dodgers have some room. They still need another right-handed bat, which could turn out to be Justin Turner, if they bring him back to play third base.

There was plenty of chatter at the end of 2020 about Nolan Arenado and a possible trade between the Dodgers and the Rockies. Things have gone quiet on that front. Again: Things have been generally quiet around the champs lately.

But there is something else worth remembering: The Dodgers didn’t make one of the biggest trades in their history, for one of the most gifted all-around players they’ve had in their history -- for Betts -- until Feb. 10, 2020. Then they watched as Betts became the difference-maker they thought he would be at the plate, on the bases and in right field. He made dramatic catches and manufactured runs, and then, at the end, hit the eighth-inning home run in Game 6 against the Rays that put the World Series away for L.A. once and for all.

The Padres went after the Dodgers hard in the last regular season, even getting to within 1 1/2 games of first place in the middle of September, before getting swept by the Dodgers in the playoffs a few weeks later. San Diego keeps coming. And the club has gotten better. It's still trying to beat the best. Roberts is right. Bring it on.