The nightmares of several Los Angeles Dodgers fans have come true as the 111-win team fell to the San Diego Padres on Saturday night.
The National League Division Series saw the Dodgers take on their division rivals last week — where they were only able to get one win against the Padres in LA.
This leads many to wonder how the Dodgers — who won the division, set a new franchise win record and have made the playoffs every year since 2013 — lost to a team that’s only been to the playoffs four times since 1998.
Truth be told, all of the accolades a ballclub possesses are erased at the beginning of every season, every series and every game. Winning the World Series or making playoffs the year prior doesn’t automatically make a team a candidate for the subsequent year. A team being dominant on paper doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to beat every team in its path.
All of that to say, the Dodgers can’t use the 111-win excuse, or any previous playoff appearances or a 2020 World Series win, for that matter, as a means to reinforce their ego. When you get to the playoffs, every team starts at zero again. Last year’s successes, a good record and previous wins against a certain team no longer matter. Once a team makes the playoffs, the only thing that matters from that point forward is the World Series.
That being said, both the Dodgers and the Padres made their case as teams throughout the regular season — with the Dodgers winning their division and the Padres making several moves to make the Wild Card without their star player Fernando Tatis Jr.
This season saw the Padres subtly put their rebuild into motion, as they rid themselves of defensive liability Eric Hosmer, trade two minor leaguers and cash considerations in exchange for left-handed pitcher Jay Groome from the Boston Red Sox. In addition, a blockbuster deal in which the Padres traded several key prospects such as MacKenzie Gore and veteran Luke Voit was the price to pay for All-Star outfielder Juan Soto — eliminating any excuses that run the lines of “they bought their team.”
From there, the Padres made their case by pushing through the New York Mets in the Wild Card rounds and then touching base in LA to face the Dodgers.
Game 1 of the Division Series was a bullpen game — meaning that the scheduled starting pitcher either is taken out early from the game, usually after two to four innings, or the team intentionally decides to use multiple pitchers for one to two innings each from the start of the game. Mike Clevinger of the Padres exited the game after throwing 2.2 innings and yielding four runs. The Padres’ bullpen was able to mop up the mess and only give up one more run, with the Dodgers ultimately winning 3-5.
In the next matchup, the starting pitchers on both teams only went five innings and each gave up three runs, setting the stage for yet another bullpen game. However, the Padres bullpen was lights out with Robert Suarez, Nick Martinez and Josh Hader not giving up any runs. The Dodgers put up 11 hits that game, but couldn’t score any more runs after the third inning. Even though the game was a low-scoring affair, the Padres continued to keep putting points on the board while the Dodgers fizzled out. Key players on the Dodgers like right fielder Mookie Betts and shortstop Trea Turner went 1-4 and 1-5, respectively.
Game 3 proved to be a pivotal moment in the series: Both teams decided on yet another bullpen game early on and several different pitchers were used by both teams. This time around, the score was 1-2, the Dodgers scoring only once on six hits and the Padres bringing home two runs on seven hits. The offense was very sparse, but at that point, it came down to which team can take advantage of the rare opportunities to score in a tense bullpen game, as it did in previous matchups. In this case, the Padres prevailed and played better baseball by scoring in these situations.
In the final game, the Dodgers did not bring runners in scoring position in innings one and two, but the third inning showed Dodger Freddie Freeman knocking in Betts and Turner on a hit past Padres first baseman Wil Myers in the top of the third inning. In the top of the fourth, the Padres’ starting pitcher Joe Musgrove gets back-to-back strikeouts and the Dodgers’ second baseman Gavin Lux swings at the first pitch for the third out — three up three down for the Padres.
Giving it his all, Musgrove stops the Dodgers with runners on first and second base by striking out Lux on Musgrove’s 101st pitch in the sixth inning.
In the top of the seventh, the most important point of both teams’ seasons was at hand. With the Dodgers having the bases loaded with no outs, they only managed to score once on a sacrifice flyout. In the bottom half of the inning, the Dodgers’ bullpen squanders as Tommy Kahnle, Yency Almonte and Alex Vesia give up five runs to the Padres, allowing key at-bats coming from Trent Grisham, Austin Nola, Ha-Seong Kim, Soto and Jake Cronenworth — with Kim hitting an impactful double down third base line and Soto and Cronenworth both singling. The Dodgers couldn’t come back to overcome the deficit as closing pitcher Hader shut the door, ending the Dodgers’ postseason hopes.
At the end of the day, 111 wins can’t necessarily bring you over the hump when it comes to playoff baseball. Sure, many teams who win their division usually have a decent chance at winning the World Series, but the Dodgers did not play good baseball in the Division Series and it shows. The pitching performances from both sides were outstanding, but that alone can’t win the game. Through all four games of the series, the Dodgers struggled with consistency at the plate and had poor plate approaches. This is ultimately why the scoring from the Dodgers was very scarce, and when they did finally have runners in scoring position — multiple times in fact — they failed to bring runners home. The big example here is having bases loaded in the seventh inning in the final game versus the Padres and only scoring in one run. Dare I mention there were no outs?
Overall, the series really highlighted the fact that the Dodgers’ failure this time around was due to unproductive time at the plate and lack of the clutch factor with runners in scoring position. Pitching can be very inconsistent at times for every ballclub, but for the Dodgers’ bullpen to fizzle out against the Padres’ best players in the seventh in the final game was an insult to injury as they couldn’t get it done at the plate either.
The Padres fought tooth and nail out of the Wild Card, lost arguably one of their best players for the regular season in Tatis Jr., sacrificed nine players in total in trading away Hosmer and later on acquiring Soto, and then moved forward by upsetting the New York Mets and now the Los Angeles Dodgers. They did this by having good plate approaches in key moments with runners on base and pitching well regardless of a bullpen game happening or having their scheduled starter pitch the bulk of the game — something the Dodgers failed to do in this postseason appearance.
You know the line: maybe next year.