Darvish, Padres stand tall in taking their measure vs. LA

May 13th, 2024

SAN DIEGO -- Yes, the Dodgers remain National League West favorites, and more than a quarter of the way through the 2024 season, their lead atop the standings is comfortable enough.

But if a divisional challenger is going to emerge this year … could it be these San Diego Padres? They're certainly making an early case.

Over the weekend, the two NL West rivals met for their third series of the season, and the Padres still haven’t lost one. They took the most recent edition with an authoritative 4-0 victory Sunday afternoon in the rubber match at Petco Park.

“It means we can play good baseball at the highest level,” right fielder Fernando Tatis Jr. said. “This series was as clean as possible for us.”

Solo home runs from Tatis, Jake Cronenworth and Xander Bogaerts helped make a winner out of , who was brilliant across seven scoreless innings. The veteran right-hander attacked mostly with his hard stuff, using both fastballs and his hard slider to keep the Dodgers off-balance.

In the process, Darvish tied a career high with 18 straight scoreless innings, something he first did in 2013. Since coming off the injured list in late April, he has been downright dominant, lowering his ERA to 2.43.

Darvish also became the fourth straight Padres starter -- joining Dylan Cease, Michael King and Matt Waldron -- to pitch at least five innings while allowing two hits or fewer. Per ELIAS, no rotation has accomplished that feat since at least 1893.

“Starting pitching’s the anchor to our club,” Padres manager Mike Shildt said. “Listen, we’ve been able to win a lot of different ways. We’re going to continue to look to win a lot of different ways. But the equation for consistency in winning is getting that starting pitching.”

The Padres are getting it. And, sure enough, they’ve won four straight series. They’ve also won two against the Dodgers, after the two teams split their season-opening series in Seoul.

Following Sunday’s victory, Shildt was (again) hesitant to put too much emphasis into a few games against L.A. He’s spent most of the season downplaying the importance of these games, while reinforcing that his first priority is winning the division.

On the surface, that would seem paradoxical. But Shildt insists it makes sense. This weekend, he said, offered proof.

“If we play our game, if we play the way we’re supposed to play, compete and execute regardless of opponent … that’s the recipe,” Shildt said. “Clearly that’s a good club over there, not going to minimize that. But every team we’re going to face is a quality ballclub of big leaguers. We’ve got to go out and play the game right.”

The Padres did that from the start on Sunday. Tatis and Cronenworth went back to back in the bottom of the first inning. Tatis’ was a Statcast-projected 442-foot no-doubter, 109.2 mph off the bat against Walker Buehler. It was a ridiculous piece of hitting on a 96 mph fastball that dotted the outside corner -- and a reminder of all Tatis is still capable of, despite his early struggles.

Cronenworth’s ensuing blast assuredly was not a “no-doubter.” The ball was initially ruled in play after bouncing back over the fence, and Cronenworth was tagged out at third base amid his home run trot. After a short replay review, Cronenworth jogged the last 90 feet, and the Padres led 2-0.

Luis Arraez hit an RBI forceout in the fourth inning, before Bogaerts snapped an 0-for-17 skid -- a skid with its share of line drives at defenders -- by homering in the fifth.

“Felt nice to finally hit one that you know is gone -- to know that no one is going to get close to that one,” Bogaerts said.

From there, the outcome was never in doubt. Darvish dominated through seven. Wandy Peralta worked around some trouble in the eighth by punching out Freddie Freeman. Closer Robert Suarez nailed down the ninth, as he has done all season. (The Padres are 16-0 when Suarez appears.)

Among Los Angeles’ 15 losses this season, the Padres have accounted for five of them. And, sure, the Dodgers remain prohibitive favorites to win the division. But if they’re the measuring stick in the NL West, thus far, the Padres are measuring up.

“They've been really unpredictable,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “Part of it is attacking some of our hitters' weaknesses, going to their strengths. But I really think that they've just mixed and matched well, and they've executed. Obviously, they get up to play us. And they've played well.”