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NLDS Prep: Know Thy Enemy

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A familiar foe darkens our path once again.

Los Angeles Dodgers v San Diego Padres
Ring the bell, let’s do this...
Photo by Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/Getty Images

Aw, man, here we go again...

After vanquishing one of our playoff demons, the Padres will face off against another here in the NLDS, with Game 1 going tonight at 1838 Pacific. The L.A. Dodgers, owners of the best regular season record in MLB, and a team we went 4-6 against during the season, stand in our way. Since we already know a ton about the Dodgers, I’ll briefly go over what we know and what we can expect in this series.

The Basics (all ranks listed are across MLB)

Regular season record: 43-17 (1st); 6-4 against Padres (outscored Padres 48-36 in regular season).

Manager: Dave Roberts, 436-273 overall record (5th year with Dodgers)

Recent Playoff record: Won 2 games to 0 in 2020 NLWC series against Milwaukee Brewers, outscoring the Brewers 7-2.

Run Differential: +136 (1st).

Team Batting: .256 (8th)/.338 (4th)/ .483 (1st), 118 home runs (1st), 349 runs (1st), 29 steals (6th).

Starting Rotation ERA: 3.29 ERA (1st).

Bullpen ERA: 2.74 (1st).

Pitching stats: 8.64 K/9 (12th), 1.06 WHIP (1st), .213 opposing batting average (1st), 213 runs allowed (1st).

Welp, that’s intimidating.

The Dodgers were acknowledged as one of, if not the best team in MLB before the season, and they did nothing to dissuade anyone of that notion over the regular season. The scarier part of this is the fact that the Dodgers racked up all these stats while still receiving sub-par seasons from several key players like CF Cody Bellinger, 1B Max Muncy, and CF Joc Pederson. They’ve also remained relatively healthy all year. Only two players were lost for significant time during the year: LHP Caleb Ferguson underwent Tommy John surgery after he was lifted following a batter in the previous meeting with the Padres, and RHP Jimmy Nelson is also out for the year after undergoing back surgery in July. It’s worth noting that Game 1 starter, Walker Buehler, has suffered from blister issues recently, so we’ll see if he’s got a handle on that, or if the Dodgers will need to go to their bullpen early.

At the Plate.

The Dodgers are, by most marks, the best hitting team in baseball. While having just an above average team batting average, no one scored more runs, slugged better, and hit more homers than the Dodgers. Barring a change to swap out a slumping Max Muncy, expect them to roll with a lineup pretty similar to the following:

1) Mookie Betts, RF

2) Corey Seager, SS

3) Justin Turner, 3B

4) Max Muncy, 1B

5) Will Smith, C

6) Cody Bellinger, CF

7) Chris Taylor, 2B

8) Edwin Ríos, DH

9) AJ Pollock, LF

If Muncy gets swapped out, (which, tap-dancing aside, they will probably do) the Dodgers can go a number of directions. Edwin Rios can come in at 1B, or they could shift Cory Seager to 1B and move Chris Taylor to SS while playing Gavin Lux at 2B, or they could...

You get my point; they’ve got options, and whoever they play, the lineup will most likely hit. The Dodgers had the highest average exit velocity, the best barrel rate per plate appearance, and the best hard hit percentage per swing in MLB this year. Barring a drastic and sudden collapse in ability, this team will likely score runs. So what do the Padres pitchers do? Amazingly enough, as good as they are collectively, the Dodgers do have some weak spots. Check out their advanced stats, per Statcast:

Basically, the Padres need to limit the chances of the Dodgers’ best hitters, and force their non-superstars to beat us. That means going after Pederson, Pollock, Muncy, and Taylor, and avoiding Betts, Seager, and likely Smith. Bellinger, despite some good stats, has also struggled at times this year, looking nothing like a reigning NL MVP. He’s shown some vulnerability on pitches on the outside of the zone, particularly up-and-in and up-and-away. There will be opportunities to limit the damage; the Padres will need to execute.

On the Mound.

So, not only can the Dodgers hit, they can also pitch. The Dodgers really have a 6-deep starting rotation. Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw are already slated to start Game 1 and 2, respectively, and waiting in the wings for Games 3, 4 and 5 are Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin, Julio Urias, and Ross Stripling, and that’s without mentioning the bullpen arms, headlined by closer Kenley Jansen, Pedro Baez, and young Brusdar Graterol. It’s a deep rotation, with an effective bullpen backing it up. Our own johnjprecoda is breaking down the pitching matchup in his fanpost, but suffice to say, the Dodgers are good; they don’t let many people get on-base, and they don’t allow teams to score. Here’s what they look like, per Statcast:

So what do the Padres do against this collection of arms? The same thing they’ve done all year: take controlled at-bats, don’t chase, and make the Dodgers pitchers come to them (I know, easier said than done). Specifically, the Padres will need to take advantage of certain pitches:

In Game 1, that means making Buehler throw his cutter, and if he gets knocked out early, going after Gonsolin’s splitter or Baez’s 4-seamer. Again, easier said than done, but it beats laying in the fetal position.

In the Field.

We’ve now established that the Dodgers can hit and pitch with the best of them. So, how do the Dodgers play the field? Interestingly enough, not as well as you’d think. Per Statcast, the Dodgers were the #9 team in Outs Above Average across MLB. That’s an above average team, for sure, especially when you consider just how often they moved players around the diamond. But when you start looking at specific players, some holes start to open up, particularly on the left side of the field:

Simply, the Dodgers have often used 3B this year to hide a glove, and that’s affected their overall stats for the team. Even Cory Seager and Gavin Lux, guys lauded for their defensive talents coming up, have struggled this year. While not poor by any stretch, the Padres can find some holes in the Dodger defense. The Dodgers will give us chances to make things happen on the basepaths, as we’ve already seen this year; the Padres will need to take advantage.

PREDICTION.

I really struggle to see how the team can pull off 3 wins against the Dodgers. The Dodgers are probably the best team in MLB, and were the best hitting and pitching team all year. I struggle to see how we come out on top; we just don’t seem to have the front-end pitching to match up.

But, as I’m writing this, the team just announced it’s 28-man roster for the NLDS:

  • RHP (10): Austin Adams, Mike Clevinger, Zach Davies, Pierce Johnson, Chris Paddack, Emilio Pagán, Luis Patiño, Garrett Richards, Trevor Rosenthal, Craig Stammen
  • LHP (5): Tim Hill, Adrian Morejon, Drew Pomeranz, Matt Strahm, Ryan Weathers
  • C (3): Luis Campusano, Jason Castro, Austin Nola
  • INF (5): Jake Cronenworth, Eric Hosmer, Manny Machado, Mitch Moreland, Fernando Tatis Jr.
  • OF (5): Greg Allen, Trent Grisham, Wil Myers, Tommy Pham, Jurickson Profar

The biggest changes are of course, the return of RHP Mike Clevinger, and the additions of OF Greg Allen and LHP Ryan Weathers in exchange for RHP Dan Altavilla, INF Greg Garcia, and UT Jorge Mateo.

While I wish Lamet could pitch here, I remind myself that, for most of the year, we didn’t have Mike Clevinger. We relied on Lamet, Paddack, Davies, Richards, and some veritable Padres magic to stand toe to toe with the best team in MLB, so Clevinger essentially replaces Lamet. Combine that with this interesting fact: if it wasn’t for one Chris Paddack blow-up in an 11-2 loss, giving the Dodgers 9 of their 12 run advantage, the series was otherwise a coin flip. 5 of the 10 meetings were decided by 2 runs or less, with the Padres winning two 1-run games and the Dodgers winning one, when Taylor threw out CF Trent Grisham at the plate on a perfect throw to record a game-ending double play off Manny Machado’s fly ball to left field in August.

This will likely be the best series of the MLB playoffs, with neither team backing down and playing with a sense of desperation.

So screw logic; give me the Padres in 5, and let’s keep the dream alive.

GO PADRES!!! RESPECT SAN DIEGO!!!