After what feels like too much time without Dodgers-Padres games in our lives, baseball’s most exciting current rivalry is back in session.
Baseball fans circled the first Los Angeles-San Diego showdowns after the Padres doubled down on a breakout 2020 season and loaded up over the winter. It looked like the season’s best inter-division matchup on paper, and the real thing hasn’t disappointed. Each of the first seven matchups in April were must-see TV. The Friars lead the season series five games to three and have outscored the Dodgers 38-32 in those games.
To say these two National League powers are evenly matched might actually be underselling it, and now we’re treated to more. Game 2 of these teams’ three-game set is slated for Tuesday night in San Diego, and it will be an MLB.TV Free Game of the Day. (Blackout restrictions apply, although live audio still will be available through MLB.TV in local markets.)
Here’s a quick breakdown of the matchup:
How they’re doing
Dodgers (44-28, 2nd in NL West)
Padres (43-32, 3rd in NL West)
Yes, these two NL favorites are actually battling for second in their division, as the Giants’ surprising first-place start to 2021 has stretched this out to a three-team battle out west. The Dodgers recovered from a sluggish end to April and have won 12 of their first 18 games to begin June. Meanwhile the Padres just swept the Reds in front of raucous full-capacity crowds at Petco Park over the weekend, giving them their first four-game series sweep since 2011. San Diego took Game 1 of the series and is currently riding a five-game win streak.
A casual Tuesday night matchup of Cy Young Award-winning left-handers -- a.k.a., just another day in this rivalry between two extraordinarily pitching-rich clubs. Kershaw and Snell were both key figures in last fall’s World Series, of course, though they never directly pitched against one another across the Dodgers’ six-game triumph over Tampa Bay. There was a lot of anticipation prior to Snell’s first 2021 start against Los Angeles in the wake of his controversial exit from Game 6 of that Fall Classic, and while Snell has largely struggled this year (relative to his lofty expectations), he’s still been money against L.A. with a pair of earned runs allowed in each of his two starts.
Kershaw was also effective in his two April starts against the Padres, though his first outing had some spice after he took some exception to Jurickson Profar’s late swing that led to a catcher’s interference call. Kershaw, who turned 33 back in March, is still missing bats; he struck out nine batters in each of his last three starts.
The player to watch
So long as Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. is on the field, this category belongs to him. Thankfully, Tatis is back in action after tweaking his left shoulder on a diving play Saturday against Cincinnati. That troublesome shoulder caused Tatis to miss nine games in April -- he’s sat out 22 total games this year -- and yet he still leads the NL with 22 home runs and is pacing the league's qualified hitters with a 1.053 OPS. Tatis is also within shouting distance of the NL’s stolen base lead with 13 swipes; he and Atlanta’s Ronald Acuña Jr. both have a realistic shot at being the first player since Philadelphia’s Chuck Klein (way back in 1932) to lead his league in both homers and steals.
Don’t forget him
Death, taxes and Justin Turner racking up hits. Now 36 years old and playing on a new two-year deal (with a club option for 2023) for the Dodgers, Turner is heating up again with a .368 average across his last 10 games. Entering Monday, Turner’s season line was .282/.373/.478, translating to 39% above Major League average by OPS+.
If that sounds familiar, it absolutely is: Turner’s end-of-season OPS+ has settled at 120 or above (100 = MLB average) in each and every one of his Dodgers seasons since he joined Los Angeles before the 2014 campaign. Turner is one of only four hitters to hit that 120 OPS+ benchmark every season between ‘14 and ‘20 (min. 150 plate appearances) alongside Nelson Cruz, Freddie Freeman and Mike Trout.
Don’t let Tatis’ thin frame fool you; he’s as powerful a swinger as anyone in the Major Leagues. An ideal way to quantify that is through Statcast’s barrel metric, which measures how often a hitter strikes a ball with the most optimal combinations of exit velocity and launch angle to produce balls that typically go for extra-base hits (and, often, homers).
Number of note
With Snell on the bump, the Dodgers get another crack at a left-handed pitcher. That’s an area in which the defending champs have struggled this season: Los Angeles has hit .251 against righties but only .224 against lefties. The Dodgers’ front office has been vocal about addressing that issue, and they’ve already taken a big step by adding Albert Pujols. The future Hall of Fame slugger belted a three-run homer off D-backs southpaw Alex Young on Sunday, giving him eight round-trippers off lefties (out of his 11 total homers) in 2021. Pujols is hitting a scorching .381 with five dingers against left-handed pitching since he put on a Dodger uniform.