A late-August matchup that was projected to go a long way toward deciding a division title, Tuesday’s series opener between the Los Angeles Dodgers and host San Diego Padres has much different — yet equally important — implications.
The San Francisco Giants have taken control of the top spot in the National League West, leaving the Dodgers scrambling to earn their ninth consecutive division title. The fading Padres are battling the Cincinnati Reds for the second wild-card spot in the NL.
Early in the season, it appeared to be the Padres’ division to lose when they were getting the best of the World Series-champion Dodgers on a consistent basis.
The Dodgers earned victories in the first two games between the teams way back in April, but the Padres have gone 7-1 since, including a three-game sweep at San Diego from June 21-23.
Now, a Padres team that once was 17 games over .500 as recently as Aug. 10 is just 2-9 since. In a search of answers, the Padres fired pitching coach Larry Rothschild on Monday.
Both teams have been short arms in the rotation and have used bullpen games of late. The Padres had one Sunday and lost 7-4 to the Philadelphia Phillies.
Tuesday, though, could mark the return of Padres right-hander Yu Darvish (7-7, 3.70 ERA) from the injured list. He has been out since Aug. 12 with lower back tightness. Right-hander Chris Paddack is close to a return as well, but is not expected back for the upcoming series.
“With the guys we have injured, this is how it’s got to be,” Padres reliever Craig Stammen told reporters Sunday. “We’ve just got to find a way. It’s at that point in the season where it doesn’t matter how your arm feels, it doesn’t matter how your brain feels — you’ve got to figure it out.”
The Dodgers have been figuring it out and the reason is simple. They are on a roll since adding right-hander Max Scherzer and infielder Trea Turner from the Washington Nationals at the trade deadline.
The Dodgers are 4-0 in Scherzer starts and are 13-3 since Turner played his first game with the team. They just saw a nine-game winning streak end in a 7-2 defeat to the New York Mets on Sunday.
Still 2 1/2 games behind the Giants, the Dodgers do not figure to let their foot off the gas anytime soon. And they will get a boost Tuesday when left-hander Julio Urias (calf) is expected to come off the IL.
Urias (13-3, 3.29 ERA) has been solid over his last nine starts, going 4-0 with a 2.09 ERA. In nine career outings (four starts) against the Padres, he is 1-1 with a 3.86 ERA.
“We’re playing good baseball,” Dodgers outfielder AJ Pollock said. “(Sunday), you can just throw it out. We didn’t play awful but we obviously didn’t come in and take care of business. Just get back at it, keep the train moving.”
Said manager Dave Roberts: “Like I’ve always said, we’ve still got to take care of business and win ballgames. Our fate is still in our own hands.”
In addition to Urias, the Dodgers are expected to welcome back right-hander Joe Kelly (undisclosed) and outfielder Mookie Betts (hip) this week. Kelly could be back Tuesday, with Betts scheduled to return Thursday.
–Field Level Media