As the Dodgers (43-27) head down the 5 freeway for what’s become a bit of a rivalry with the San Diego Padres (42-32), they can anticipate a raucous environment for the pivotal June series. While both teams currently trail the San Francisco Giants atop the NL West, the prevailing thought among fans and experts alike is that ultimately it’ll be the two Southern California foes vying for the division crown.
It represents the first “full-capacity” series between the two teams since 2019, the difference now being that Padres fans actually go to games in 2021.
Neither team is at full strength, although the Padres are somewhat closer. Most notably, the Dodgers open the series without Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, Corey Seager, Brusdar Graterol, Corey Knebel, Scott Alexander, and several others while the Padres are without Austin Nola, Drew Pomeranz, Pierce Johnson, Keone Kela, Adrian Morejon, Matt Strahm, etc.
The big news for San Diego is that despite leaving the game Sunday with an apparent shoulder injury, Fernando Tatis Jr. appears ready to start at shortstop Monday night against the Dodgers.
Game 1: Julio Urias vs Yu Darvish
Game 1 on Monday night presents what will likely be the most difficult task for the Dodgers, especially while missing their three top left-handed bats. Yu Darvish has been excellent for San Diego, maintaining an ERA of 2.57 and WHIP of 0.95 through 14 starts in 2021. He was especially effective in two April matchups with the Dodgers, posting two 7-inning starts each allowing a single run and combining for 5 total hits allowed. It’s no surprise given Darvish’s reputation and past performance against the Dodgers that the team opens up as an underdog Monday in most sportsbooks for the first time in two years.
Darvish’s last 4 starts, however, have been less than phenomenal – he’s allowed half of his season’s earned runs over that span (12) and has pitched to a 4.15 ERA so far in June.
On the other side, the Padres have yet to encounter Julio Urias in 2021. Julio faced the 2020 Padres twice, once in the regular season and once in the postseason, going 2-0 while allowing 3 earned runs over 11.2 innings of work. When Julio Urias does run into trouble, it tends to happen early – his career ERA in the first inning is 4.15, dropping off to 2.17 by time he’s pitched into the fourth. One factor working in his favor is the Padres relative inability to hit left-handed pitching in 2021: against LHP, San Diego’s .677 OPS ranks 23 of 30 MLB teams.
A win on Monday night for the Dodgers will be no simple task – despite a relatively rocky June, Yu Darvish has proven to be a tough customer for the Dodgers to solve and should especially be so while missing key left-handed hitters. They’ll need to be patient and push Darvish’s pitch count upward while hitting his mistakes – considering the Padres’ current lack of bullpen depth, the goal needs to be to get him out of the game as early as possible. For Julio, it’s about establishing a rhythm early and being able to attack with multiple pitches for strikes – if he can locate his slurve alongside his fastball, there’s no reason he can’t see success on Monday night.
Game 2: Clayton Kershaw vs TBD (Joe Musgrove?)
Hopefully following a hard-fought Monday night win, the Dodgers will look to Clayton Kershaw to keep the momentum going (or stem the tide) on Tuesday night. With the exception of his June 11 start against Texas, Kershaw has struggled in recent weeks. He’s allowed 7 or more hits in 3 of his last 4 starts, picking up losses in all three. He’s seen San Diego twice this season, pitching to a 2.08 ERA (3 runs allowed over 13 innings) and like Urias will benefit from taking on a lineup that’s struggled against lefties all season. Still, it stands to logic that San Diego’s talent will prevail if he’s not better than he’s been in recent weeks.
While San Diego hasn’t named a Tuesday starter at time of writing, it figures very likely to be Joe Musgrove toeing the rubber. Musgrove, a San Diego native, will be forever heralded there for finally throwing the franchise’s first no-hitter in April against the Texas Rangers. He’s had a career season to date, posting a 2.28 ERA that would smash his previous career-best of 3.86 in 2020. His lone start against the Dodgers in 2021 was a struggle – on April 25, the Dodgers chased Musgrove from the game after only 3 innings, making him throw 77 pitches and putting 7 runners on base early in a game the Dodgers would ultimately drop 8-7. In his career, Musgrove has never beaten LA (0-3, 5.03 ERA). Add in rumors of Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy’s potential returns as early as Tuesday, and the Dodgers ought to have plenty of opportunity to add to Musgrove’s demons.
Game 3: Trevor Bauer vs TBD (Chris Paddack?)
Like Tuesday’s, Wednesday night’s game lacks an announced starting pitcher for the Padres at time of writing. If the rotation follows the order it has recently, the Dodgers would likely see Chris Paddack. After his very solid rookie campaign in 2019, Paddack has been a consistently below average starting pitcher at the big league level. So far in 2021, he’s posted an ERA+ of 90 (10% worse than an average starter) and a -0.5 WAR while allowing a 4.10 ERA. He’s a righty the Dodgers have feasted on in the past to the tune of a 6.94 ERA in the matchup, a trend the Dodgers will hope to continue should they get the chance on Wednesday night.
He’ll be opposed by Trevor Bauer (7-5, 2.45 ERA) for Los Angeles. Bauer has thus far had a successful first campaign in Los Angeles, despite having recently been the subject of much discussion surrounding sticky substances and spin rate. His first two starts after MLB announced it would be cracking down on pitchers’ use of various sticky gripping substances painted an ominous picture, losses to the Braves and Rangers in which he allowed 9 total runs, 7 of them earned over 12.1 rocky innings. He righted the ship in a major way on Friday in Arizona, shutting down the lowly Diamondbacks for 7 scoreless en route to a Dodger win. Given the opponent, though, questions still remain for the often controversial righthander – whether he can replicate Friday’s performance against a lineup of San Diego’s quality remains to be seen.
Given the antics surrounding Bauer’s April starts (12.1 innings, 3 earned runs) against the Padres which included sword celebrations on both sides, pitching at times with one eye shut, and nationally televised Padre home runs, the eyes of the baseball world will be especially fixated on Petco Park come Wednesday night.
After a two-week stretch of the Dodgers schedule in which they didn’t play a single team above .500, it will be interesting to see how the team responds heading into a series with the talented Padres. Petco Park will likely be the loudest it’s been since it opened, and the mood will likely be tense with hordes of Dodgers fans heading south to mingle with newly-minted Padres fans who may not remember that the team ever wore navy as a primary color. The range of series outcomes feels completely up in the air – a win Monday night, in likely the Dodgers only game as a betting underdog this season, would go a long way in defining the series’ narrative as the opposing pitching assignments get easier Tuesday and Wednesday.
At the end of the day, remember it’s only June – even should the Padres pull off the unlikely sweep, the Dodgers will maintain position ahead of them in the standings with plenty of season left. It’s a series to anticipate and enjoy, and a measuring stick of where the Dodgers currently stand among NL contenders as they get healthier.