LOS ANGELES – After a relatively decisive win in Game 1, it looked like this National League Division Series between the Dodgers and Padres was going to end the same way the other six series did during the regular season.
For nine innings on Tuesday, the Dodgers, once again, looked like the superior team. Over the years, the Dodgers have dominated the Padres -- winning 15 of 20 meetings, including the postseason -- and clearly establishing that this hasn’t been a competitive rivalry.
But following a 5-3 loss in Game 2 of the NLDS Wednesday at Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers left the door open a crack and now have given the Padres hope that they can match up against the most accomplished regular-season team in franchise history.
“That’s a good ballclub over there,” said Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman. “It’s going to be going back and forth. You have two good teams going at it that have faced each other a lot. There’s really not anything to pinpoint. We just didn’t get the big hit today.”
In Division Series with the current 2-2-1 format (excluding the 2020 series played at neutral sites), there have been 39 previous instances of teams splitting the first two games. In those 39 series, the club heading home for Games 3 and 4 went on to advance 26 times (67%).
The Dodgers came into Game 2 feeling confident with Clayton Kershaw on the mound, but the surefire Hall of Famer didn’t have his best stuff on Wednesday and the Padres’ lineup was able to jump on him early on.
Padres third baseman Manny Machado took Kershaw deep in the first inning. The Padres then added two more in the third inning. Kershaw was able to settle down, retiring the last nine batters he faced, but his outing was over after five innings.
“I definitely had some traffic all day,” Kershaw said. “It could have been a lot worse, for sure. I had to make some pitches. Had to pitch out of jams basically every inning, but there’s a few mistakes in there that got hit hard, obviously.”
Offensively, the Dodgers failed to take advantage of their opportunities in four consecutive innings. Trailing by a run in the sixth, the Dodgers had the tying run 90 feet away with no outs, but couldn’t score as Justin Turner struck out swinging and Gavin Lux grounded into an inning-ending double play.
In the seventh, the Dodgers had another golden opportunity, loading the bases with two outs for Will Smith, who flew out to center field to end the inning. The following inning, the Dodgers had the go-ahead run at the plate with two outs. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts elected to go with Austin Barnes rather than Chris Taylor to bat for Cody Bellinger. Barnes, who flew out, entered 1-for-5 lifetime against Josh Hader. Taylor is 3-for-8.
“Hader is tough on anyone, but I just felt that Austin’s short swing, it’s a flat path,” Roberts said. “Austin has had success against Hader, so he has seen him more than -- as much as anyone has. He took two good swings.”
With the game tied at 3, Trea Turner had a chance to get at least one out on a Wil Myers grounder. Turner said his goal was just to get the lead runner out at second, but the ball jumped on him at the last second. Both runners reached safely and Jurickson Profar later singled in what proved to be the winning run.
“We weren’t clean,” Roberts said. “There were a couple of opportunities, two innings back to back, that we had an opportunity situationally to push a run across to tie the game, let alone potentially take the lead, and we couldn’t do that. Defensively, it just wasn’t clean, either.”
In the postseason, your record in the regular season is thrown out the window. Nobody cares that the Dodgers won 111 games. All that matters is that they win 10 more over the next month. Now, the Dodgers might’ve given the Padres some hope.
“We're going to compete,” Machado said. “Ultimately, at the end of the day, we know that they're the division champs. They own the best record in baseball. They've played very well against us all year, but at the end of the day, we're going to go out there and compete, and we're going to go out there and leave it on the field. We're going to try to do everything possible to help our team win every single day. That's what we started in New York, and we're going to continue to do that until we're not.”
Wednesday’s loss doesn’t mean the sky is falling. This Dodgers team has proven it's the best and deepest team in the Majors. All it has to do is win a best-of-three series with two All-Stars starting the next two games -- with Anderson set for Game 4 -- and Urías looming in a potential Game 5.
It does feel, however, like the Dodgers missed a big opportunity on Wednesday. And in order for them to advance to the NLCS, they’re going to have to start playing better than they did in the two games at Dodger Stadium.
“We had some good situations in our favor there, but we didn’t get the job done,” said Dodgers third baseman Max Muncy, who hit a solo homer off Yu Darvish in the second inning. “It’s a little frustrating, but tomorrow is a new day, we’ll recover, head down to San Diego and get ready for Friday.”