For the second time in the past three years, the Los Angeles Dodgers will take on the San Diego Padres in the National League Division Series. The Padres will be hoping for a better outcome than last time, when the Dodgers swept them in three games, while the Dodgers will be hoping for the exact same result: another victory on the road to a World Series title.
The Dodgers may be the overwhelming favorites, but the Padres will hope to give them some competition. After all, the Mets were the favorites in the Wild Card Series, but the Padres ended their season. With that momentum in their corner, perhaps San Diego can give the powerhouse Dodgers a run for their money too.
While both the Dodgers and the Padres have excellent starting rotations, the Padres will be at a disadvantage after having already burned their top three starters – Yu Darvish (30 starts, 3.10 ERA), Blake Snell (24 starts, 3.38 ERA), and Joe Musgrove (30 starts, 2.93 ERA) – during the NLWCS against the Mets.
Thus, San Diego will be forced to go with Mike Clevinger (23 starts, 4.33 ERA) in Game 1 of the five-game set. Clevinger was actually the Game 1 starter the last time the Padres took on the Dodgers in the NLDS, but he was a different pitcher that season. He has undergone Tommy John surgery since then, and he looked more like a number 4/5 starter this season than a true ace.
The Dodgers, meanwhile, will have Julio Urías (31 starts, 2.16 ERA) and Clayton Kershaw (22 starts, 2.28 ERA) well-rested and ready to start the first two games of the series, with Tyler Anderson (28 starts, 2.57 ERA) and Tony Gonsolin (24 starts, 2.14 ERA) set up to pitch games three and four. This will give LA a big advantage in Game 1 and a potential Game 5, with either Urías or Kershaw facing off against Clevinger. The middle three games of the series, however, should be a little closer, with great pitching matchups lined up for each contest.
The Dodgers have the best bullpen in the National League, and it isn’t particularly close. They have a seemingly endless supply of dominant relievers, including Evan Phillips (63 IP, 1.14 ERA), Alex Vesia (54.1 IP, 2.15 ERA), Chris Martin (56 IP, 2.05 ERA) and Brusdar Graterol (49.2 IP, 3.26 ERA). There’s the newly healthy Tommy Kahnle too, who hasn’t pitched a full season since 2019 but looked as sharp as ever in his September return.
The Padres bullpen is not as deep as the Dodgers’ is, but they do have a handful of top arms to rely on, and when it comes to the postseason, the top three or four relievers in any team’s bullpen are more important than depth.
Robert Suarez (47.2 IP, 2.27 ERA) has been terrific for San Diego this season, and Nick Martinez has done great work since a full-time move to the bullpen (54 IP, 2.67 ERA as a reliever). Luis García (61 IP, 3.39 ERA) is the next man on the depth chart, and he has put together one of the best seasons of his career with an especially strong second half (25.2 IP, 3.16 ERA).
The key to San Diego’s success, however, will be Josh Hader. Once hailed as the greatest reliever in baseball, Hader had a shaky summer and finished the season with a 5.22 ERA. However, he seemed to find his footing in September, allowing only one earned run in eleven appearances. He was excellent on Sunday against the Mets, throwing a perfect ninth inning to send the Padres to the NLDS. If Hader can dominate the Dodgers lineup, these two bullpens will be a lot more evenly matched than they look on paper.
Once again, the Dodgers have the advantage. They’re the best team in baseball, and they have been fantastic all year long on both sides of the ball.
The Dodgers have a fearsome lineup from top to bottom, hardly giving opposing pitchers a chance to breathe. Freddie Freeman (157 wRC+) and Mookie Betts (144 wRC+) are two of the best hitters in baseball, while Trea Turner (128 wRC+), Will Smith (127 wRC+), Justin Turner (123 wRC+) have all had great seasons with the bat. Even the guys at the bottom of the order, the likes of Chris Taylor (93 wRC+) and Cody Bellinger (83 wRC+), can still do some damage now and again.
The Padres power is more concentrated around the middle of the order, with an offensive core that includes Manny Machado (152 wRC+), Juan Soto (145 wRC+), Jake Cronenworth (110 wRC+), and Josh Bell (123 wRC+). Unfortunately, Soto hasn’t quite been himself since the trade to San Diego, and Bell has gone ice cold (although he had a good series in New York). If those two are hitting at their best, the Padres have a dangerous offense, but if they continue to slump, the rest of the lineup isn’t going to be strong enough to bail them out.
As boring as this prediction may be, it’s impossible not to pick the Dodgers in this series. They went 14-5 against the Padres this season, and they’re the better team in just about every way. They’ll come into the series well-rested, and home field advantage should give them an edge too.
If Soto and Bell pick it up, and Hader continues to dominate, this series should be interesting, but ultimately, it probably goes to the Dodgers in three or four games.