Padres, Dodgers bring 'intensity' to NLDS

October 6th, 2020

There have been back-and-forth games and bat flips, clashes on the field and collisions at the plate. They traded wins, and occasionally words, 10 times over the past two months. Every time they met, even inside empty ballparks in late-summer Southern California, it felt like a postseason preview.

On Tuesday, the Dodgers and Padres will bring their newly revived rivalry to the National League Division Series.

They may not display the same level of resentment as the Astros and A’s, or publicly admit to open hostility like the Yankees and Rays, but make no mistake: The Dodgers and Padres don’t seem to like each other, and it’s shaping up so that these two NL West teams could play a lot more meaningful games in the coming years.

“I feel like we just get the best out of each other,” Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. said Monday. “They’re a great ballclub. We’re a great ballclub. So, I feel like we’re just going to go out there and show who’s the best this year.”

The Dodgers owned that distinction during the regular season. They remained the class of the NL by finishing 43-17, the Majors’ best record, and winning their eighth straight division title with a six-game edge over second-place San Diego. And they won six of their 10 meetings with the Padres while outscoring San Diego by 12 runs in the season series.

But the Padres have managed to rile up the Dodgers on several occasions this year as they stormed out of their rebuild by putting together a 37-23 record, second only to Los Angeles in the NL.

“Obviously, there’s some intensity in those games, and we enjoy that,” said Dodgers right-hander Walker Buehler, who will start Game 1. “We’ve played in some big games in the past few years, and that intensity’s always a good thing, I think.”

The bitterness between these two teams began on Aug. 3, when Tatis slammed into Dodgers catcher Will Smith (who wound up on the injured list with a neck injury) during a rundown, but their Sept. 14 matchup stands out as the peak of their conflict this year.

Trent Grisham crushed a game-tying home run off Clayton Kershaw, paused at the plate as he stared into his team’s dugout then barked back at the Dodgers when they chirped at him for soaking in his solo shot. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said after that the veteran Kershaw deserved more respect, but it was the final score -- 7-2, Padres -- that woke up the visiting team.

“It just seemed like they kept coming at us the whole game. We never had an answer. There was really nothing we could do other than sit there and take it,” Mookie Betts said. “We just had a talk amongst ourselves, and we were able to come back out and play the game that we always do.”

Betts said he was glad the Dodgers got “punched in the mouth” in that game. They met as a team that night before reeling off 10 wins in their final 12 games. That night at Petco Park reinforced that they need to play with energy against the Padres as soon as the first pitch is thrown, Betts added, “because you know they will.”

“For us to come back and win the series, that just really was good to see from our guys,” Roberts said. “I think if you are looking for a turning point, that was probably one of them, and we’ve continued to play good baseball since then.”

It’s worth noting that there is mutual respect between the two teams. After the Aug. 31 Trade Deadline, Padres general manager A.J. Preller said the Dodgers have “set the bar” for any team seeking sustainable success. Roberts, a former Padres coach, credited manager Jayce Tingler, Preller and San Diego’s front office for the “tremendous job” they’ve done building a competitive roster and “getting better each year.”

“Once I got here, you didn’t realize how good they were. They have a lot of really, really good arms, some good prospects coming up,” Betts said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun going forward.”

Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer acknowledged after San Diego’s Wild Card Series win over the Cardinals that “we have to get through these guys to get where we want to be at the end of the day -- and that’s world champions.” The Dodgers have proven they can win in October. So all of their regular-season history, right fielder Wil Myers said, won’t matter much when they take the field for Game 1.

“This isn’t about revenge or getting somebody back at this point. This is all about winning baseball games,” Myers said. “For us, how we look at the other side, we don’t really want to look at the jersey. We don’t want to look at the name. This is just another team that we’re going out to play. This is a team that’s in our way that we have to come in and beat.”

But let’s be honest: When two highly skilled, high-energy teams get together in a high-stakes environment, anything can happen. The Dodgers and Padres have shown that, and there’s much more to come.

“This will probably be the most fun,” Betts said. “I’m sure there’s going to be a lot going on, but I’m here for it.”