SAN DIEGO -- Over the past month, with their relentless play on the field and their flurry of trades off it, the Padres have emerged as the biggest threat to Los Angeles’ National League West superiority. But the Dodgers have won the division for seven seasons running. It won’t be wrested from their grasp so easily.
In a crucial three-game series between the two West rivals this week, San Diego delivered the first blow. But the Dodgers punched back on Tuesday night with a 3-1 victory at Petco Park. With the loss, the Padres fell 2 1/2 games back in the race for the NL West.
Zach Davies continued his strong season -- and he continued to solidify his place in the Padres’ playoff plans. But he was outdueled by Dodgers right-hander Tony Gonsolin, who held San Diego to four hits across seven innings. It sets up a pivotal rubber match on Wednesday afternoon.
“There's still games to be played, there's still ground to make up,” Davies said. “You want to win your division -- regardless of what happens in the playoffs. So, for us, it sucks that we lost, but you come back out tomorrow, put a ‘W’ on the board.”
Consider the implications of Wednesday’s finale:
If the Padres win ... They'll be back within 1 1/2 games of the Dodgers, and they'd split the season series (leaving the tiebreaker to divisional record). That gap is by no means insurmountable. The Padres' final three series are against teams below .500. The Dodgers, meanwhile, must face the first-place A's next week (not to mention an always-testing four-game series in Colorado this weekend).
If the Dodgers win ... The gap grows to 3 1/2, and L.A. will have locked up the season series, 6-4. There are no one-game playoffs in 2020, meaning the Dodgers would hold the tiebreaker based on head-to-head record. In other words, lose Wednesday, and it's time for the Padres to set their sights on the No. 4 seed -- and home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs. (They should be able to lock that up at some point in the next week.)
Of course, whether the Padres win the division or not, they could be headed for an October rematch with the Dodgers if they both advance past the Wild Card round.
As Davies noted, the Padres have placed an emphasis on winning the West and claiming the top overall seed. But they won’t throw caution to the wind to do so.
Rather than rush Chris Paddack back from the ankle injury he sustained last week, Paddack will get the ball Friday in Seattle instead. That means two extra days of rest and one extra bullpen session for the ailing right-hander.
As a result, San Diego will employ a bullpen day Wednesday, starting with rookie left-hander Adrian Morejon.
The Padres’ dominant relief corps is entirely fresh. It’s the final game of the regular season against the team they’re chasing in the standings. Plus, there’s an off-day awaiting on Thursday. Know what that means?
“We’ll all be available,” manager Jayce Tingler said. “It’ll be all hands on deck.”
Performances like Davies’ made that possible. Davies has been as steady as anyone in the San Diego rotation this season, having yet to allow more than three earned runs across his 10 starts.
It'd be hard to make the case for anyone else to take the ball as one of the three Wild Card round starting pitchers. (Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet have seemingly locked up their places, too.) Davies exited after six innings of three-run ball, and the San Diego bullpen kept the game within striking distance.
Even in Tuesday’s loss, the Padres seemed determined to make things as difficult as possible on the Dodgers. They loaded the bases during a tense ninth inning against closer Kenley Jansen, before Wil Myers and Jake Cronenworth struck out to end the game.
“It said what we already know about the guys,” Tingler said. “We don’t give up, we keep battling, we keep going. We were one barrel away from either tying it or possibly winning it.”
That barrel never came, and the Padres’ season-high eight-game winning streak was snapped. If they want an NL West race, they’ll need to start a new one on Wednesday.