Rivalries in baseball are as old as the first edition of the automobile — and in a lot of ways, they define the national pastime. Yankees and Red Sox, Cubs and Cardinals — they are the matchups that make baseball fans pay attention no matter the regular-season implications. In 2021, a pair of National League West foes are taking center stage, so much so that the perceived “East Coast bias” in American sports may be on hiatus for at least 12 months.
The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres have competed in the same division for 52 years, largely dominated by L.A.. Prior to the start of the 2021 campaign, the Dodgers have enjoyed a 464-393 record against their Southern California counterparts. Los Angeles has appeared in the World Series eight times since the Padres’ inception in 1969.
What transpired from April 16-18 between the Dodgers and Padres from Petco Park was more than just a regular-season series in the first month of the schedule — it was a brilliantly produced preview to the blockbuster movie of the year.
WATCH: Tyler Milliken and Logan Lockhart break down a wild week in the MLB with Episode 3 of “The Squeeze”
Previewing the Postseason
A sneak peek of anticipated battles down the road is not uncommon in sports. Think back to last decade when the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors would battle in the regular season. The NBA world knew there was a good chance those teams would meet months later, with much larger stakes on the line. Or, in the NFL during the 2020 season when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints played twice during the campaign, only to then later meet in the playoffs.
But the 2021 edition of the Dodgers and Padres matchup feels different than a usual “preview to the playoffs.” It’s a breath of fresh air, reminiscent of a Yankees-Red Sox duel during the 2004 season. Whenever these two NL West teams play this season, expect their games to be the headline story in the baseball world. Through the assortment of pitching matchups that will be seen, and an urgency from both sides to be the “best in the west”, both Los Angeles and San Diego are proving that the MLB regular season matters.
The first set of the year between the teams was three of the first 19 games in the season-series. The Dodgers took the first two and the Padres avoiding the sweep in the Sunday finale. This rivalry seems logical from the surface, considering geographic proximity and division implications. However, in 2021, the matchup is less about those simple-minded factors and more so about the players.
Dodgers-Padres Rosters in 2021 By the Numbers
Combined All-Star game appearances: 46
Combined Cy Young awards: 6
Combined Rookie of the Year awards: 3
Combined Most Valuable Player awards: 3
The two clubs proved last weekend that the games are deserving of national attention. It’s not only because of the trash-talking antics or the playoff-like intensity that was displayed that justifies the apparent interest across the baseball world. It’s the management of the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts.
The Strategy for the First Series
Roberts opted to rest his top players prior to the series against the Padres in an effort to ensure everyone was at their best. And it was no coincidence that Los Angeles’ top three starters saw the mound over the weekend: Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, and Trevor Bauer.
Despite being in the early goings of a 162-game marathon, the first-place Dodgers played the Padres at Petco Park like it was the first day of October, and vice-versa. There can only be one division winner, and with the MLB and MLBPA unable to agree on an expanded postseason for 2021, the rivalry will have major playoff implications every time the two go head-to-head.
When Ryan Weathers threw the pitch of the game last Friday night, the playoff atmosphere at Petco Park had already arrived. And it was for a game in April, in a stadium that permitted a limited capacity of fans to be present.
Let’s Go Again
The Dodgers and Padres will meet for the fourth time this season tonight to begin a four-game weekend set, with the conclusion of the series featured as the marquee Sunday Night Baseball game on ESPN.
The first game of the series begins tonight, Thursday April 22 at 7:10 PDT from Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.