How much have revamped Padres closed gap vs. Dodgers?

August 5th, 2022

The Padres and Dodgers have always had a nice rivalry, but the stakes got much higher after the Padres remade their lineup with the addition of, among others, Juan Soto. The two will meet at Dodger Stadium for a three-game set beginning Friday. Who has the edge? gathered to examine how the balance of power may (or may not) have shifted in the National League West division.

Alyson Footer, editor/moderator: Timing is everything, and we’d like to thank the schedule makers for making sure the Padres and Dodgers play each other within a few days of the Padres making a blockbuster deal and overhauling a quarter of their Major League roster.

All kidding aside, this upcoming series at Dodger Stadium this weekend suddenly is shaping up to be a doozy. AJ, I saw your photo of the line wrapped around Petco Park as fans lined up to get their first glimpse of Soto on Wednesday. I’m guessing the L.A. crowd will be pretty fired up for this upcoming series, too. Is there a renewed rivalry on the horizon?

Juan Toribio, Dodgers beat reporter: Much like they did before last season, the Dodgers downplayed the series on Thursday, but the Padres definitely have their attention now. When these two teams played a few weeks ago, it was clear that the Dodgers were the much better team. The gap has certainly closed now, and we're about to get the type of games that were at the center of attention in baseball last April.

AJ Cassavell, Padres beat reporter: Indeed. I think the rivalry is on -- or back -- however you want to look at it. These two teams have played some thrilling games over the past few seasons. But the Dodgers have always held a clear upper hand. Sure, they've got a double-digit-games lead in the division. But when you compare these rosters after what A.J. Preller did at the Trade Deadline, I'm not so sure they have that clear upper hand anymore.

Footer: Basically, any time two teams in one division are good, it's a "rivalry" when they play each other. The Dodgers and Giants famously dislike each other, and I have to say I'm hoping for some fireworks between the Dodgers and Padres moving forward now that the balance of power is a little more … balanced. That said, I'm guessing nothing about the Trade Deadline dampened the Dodgers’ swagger. 

Cassavell: No doubt, the Padres need to put up more of a fight than they have at Dodger Stadium lately. They've dropped nine of their last 10 there, and when they played last September, it was as one-sided a "rivalry" -- if you could even call it that -- as I've ever seen. But this is a different Padres team, and they've made that very clear.

Toribio: There isn't the historical hatred that there is in the Dodgers-Giants rivalry, but there's definitely some bad blood between these two teams. We had a couple of benches-clearing incidents in each of the previous two seasons. I remember before the first regular-season meeting last year, we asked every player if they considered the Padres a rival and they all said no. Then after the first series, Dave Roberts was just like, "Yup. That felt like a rivalry." That's how intense some of those games were before the Padres collapsed.

Footer: Even with the Padres’ moves, it would be a little bit of a stretch to say they have time to jump into a division race and close in on the Dodgers’ double-digit lead. BUT -- let’s say they meet in the postseason. Is the advantage still with the Dodgers? How much did the Padres close the gap on the balance of power?

Cassavell: Big-time. This wasn't just Juan Soto. (Hah! "Just Juan Soto.") The Padres addressed every one of their roster flaws at the Deadline -- from first base, to closer, to versatility, to bench help.

Toribio: AJ gets to watch them every night, but after a couple of games into the last series between these two teams, I thought they had no chance to ever beat the Dodgers. Now, I can easily see a world where they get that done. Not getting Juan Soto could come back to haunt the Dodgers in October.

Footer: I have to say, as an outsider, I was fully expecting the Dodgers to swoop in at the 11th hour and nab Soto.

Toribio: I'm honestly still really surprised that Andrew Friedman and Company thought the price was "too high" for Soto. I'm not sure if adding Soto would've made them, say, five wins better, but it would've given them the best lineup of all time. And it would've widened the gap even more, as the Padres would've been left searching for offense elsewhere.  

Cassavell: To be fair, there's just no way A.J. Preller was going to get outbid this time, after what happened last summer. He gave up A LOT to get Soto (and Josh Bell). But it's the type of move you make 10 times out of 10 when you're a team in the Padres' position.

Footer: Let's chew on this: Which big 3 would you rather have -- Mookie Betts/Freddie Freeman/Trea Turner or Soto/Tatis/Machado? Consider this -- since the start of 2020, Soto (13.5, 1st), Machado (12.2, 7th) and Tatis (9.4, 21st) all rank in the top 21 among position players in WAR. But they may not even be the best trio in their division. Turner, Betts and Freeman all rank in the top eight in WAR.

Toribio: I think the Padres' trio has more firepower. All three of those guys can easily have a two-homer game, and you're down bad. But in terms of consistency, I think the Dodgers still have the edge. Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman and Trea Turner are just so steady. Turner has multiple hit streaks of 15 or more games this season, Freeman leads the league in hits, and Mookie is still Mookie.

With that being said, with the way Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger have struggled this season, I think the Padres will have a deeper lineup, which is not something I thought was possible just two weeks ago.

Cassavell: Yeah, in terms of availability, the Dodgers get the edge for now, with Fernando Tatis Jr. on the injured list. But once Tatis is back, I think the Padres will have the better trio. How on earth is Manny Machado -- worth 4.6 WAR this season -- their third best player? Add Bell and Jake Cronenworth and some of the other complementary pieces to that group, and I'll agree with Juan's take that the Padres have a better lineup if Tatis is healthy.

Footer: NLDS -- SD vs. LAD. Who are you taking, and in how many games?

Toribio: I'll take the Dodgers in 5 games. While they might not have a true ace, I think the Dodgers' pitching staff is still too deep, especially if Walker Buehler, Dustin May and Blake Treinen get back healthy and are productive. They'll also benefit from having 3 of 5 games at Dodger Stadium. But man, it's close. If you would've asked me this four days ago, I would've said an easy sweep for the Dodgers. And it wouldn't have been close.

I could easily be convinced to go the other way. Think that speaks to what we talked about earlier: The large gap between the two teams is much, much smaller now.

Cassavell: Obviously San Diego would need to get through a tricky Wild Card round against a tough NL East opponent. But if they face the Dodgers, I'll get a little crazy with this prediction and take the Padres in 4. Their lineup has improved significantly. Their bullpen has improved, too -- and will get even better when Drew Pomeranz returns. But it's their rotation that has carried them all year. If they're throwing Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish, Mike Clevinger and a suddenly resurgent Blake Snell, they should like their chances against anyone. If they can split in Los Angeles, Petco Park would be quite a scene for Games 3 and 4.