Dodgers Win Game 1, Retain Big Brother Status

© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s some hard-won advice, earned over a lifetime of experience as an oldest child: Whatever you do, never let your little brother win. Love your siblings, protect them, sure, but don’t give them an inch. Once they get it in their heads that they can beat you, they will.

The Dodgers understand this. Their rivalry with the Padres teases us with thrilling talent and occasional flash points of ferocity, but it remains one-sided. Tuesday’s 5-3 Game 1 win is merely the latest example. The Dodgers couldn’t complete the rout they threatened in the early innings, but just as they couldn’t put the game to bed early, neither could the Padres claw all the way back.

The Padres have spent the past four seasons loading up for an assault on the Dodgers’ NL West stronghold, picking up Manny Machado, Yu Darvish, Juan Soto, and countless others. Every time they add a new star, the baseball world — including and especially yours truly — wonders with wide eyes and twiddling fingers whether this is the move that gives the Padres parity with their Southern California rivals.

And it never is. The truncated 2020 season notwithstanding, the Padres haven’t finished within 10 games of the Dodgers for more than a decade. This year, Los Angeles won 14 out of 19 against San Diego — the same record the Braves and Mets put up against the Nationals this year — and nine of 12 after the Soto trade.

The Padres came into Tuesday night’s NLDS curtain-lifter on a high, fresh off a thrilling and emotionally charged victory over the heavily favored Mets. And the Dodgers stomped that flame out with urgency, as Trea Turner and Will Smith jumped all over an outgunned Mike Clevinger, and Julio Urías looked unhittable through four innings as the Dodgers jumped out to a 5-0 lead.

The pitching matchup was never in San Diego’s favor; Clevinger has been off his peak this year, and is merely the best arm Bob Melvin has left after burning through Darvish, Blake Snell, and Joe Musgrove in the Wild Card Series. He broke off sharp breaking balls, but struggled to locate, and when he did hit the zone, he got bum-rushed:

Turner’s 419-foot, 110.8-mph home run in the first was the highlight, but Smith tagged Clevinger for not one but two 105-mph doubles. By the time Melvin pulled the rip cord on his starter with two outs in the third, four runs were already in and there were Dodgers on second and third.

Reliever Steven Wilson walked Trayce Thompson, then Wil Myers managed to take a groundball into the shift and transform it into an error and the fifth Dodger run of the night. That brought up the top of the order with the bases loaded. If Wilson could get Mookie Betts out, the Padres would have their backs against the wall but they’d still be in the game. Just today, the Astros overturned a four-run deficit in two innings. The Braves, meanwhile, came within a Nick Castellanos web gem (and how often do we say those words in that order?) of salvaging victory from a six-run deficit.

In that watershed moment, this is what Wilson threw Betts:

Three sliders and a fastball, all belt-high, to one of the best hitters in the world. It’s a minor miracle Betts fouled them all off instead of hitting one to Timbuktu. Down 0-2, Betts chased another fastball up and out of the zone, and turned it into a harmless pop fly. The Dodgers, who by all rights ought to have been up eight or nine runs and counting after three, produced just one more baserunner all night.

The Padres had their chance to come back. After going just 1-for-13 against Urías through four innings, the Friars broke through quickly after Betts let them off the ropes. Myers homered to lead off the fifth, followed by hits from Jake Cronenworth and Ha-Seong Kim, both of whom scored on a pair of productive outs to make it 5-3.

Now, they were in striking distance. Even with the unhittable Evan Phillips on the mound the next inning, they got their chance immediately. Soto led off with a walk, to nobody’s particular surprise, followed by a fluky single from Machado that ran parallel to the third base foul line and refused to make a left turn.

After the Padres went quietly in the fourth, they had about a one-in-20 chance of coming back to win. By the time Machado singled two innings later, their odds had improved to about one in three:

Melvin chose this moment to play his best remaining card, swapping Brandon Drury, who’d started against the left-handed Urías, for Josh Bell. Bell worked a tough eight-pitch at-bat against Phillips, but struck out. Then Myers grounded into an inning-ending double play. Even getting one run from that promising start to the inning would’ve put the Dodgers under serious pressure, but the Padres never managed to get much closer. Neither team threatened for the rest of the game. Cronenworth’s two-out single in the ninth brought the tying run to the plate, but Kim popped up on the first pitch he saw, ending the game before Chris Martin could feel any pressure.

The Dodgers were by no means perfect in Game 1, and with San Diego’s top three starters now lined up to pitch the next three games, they’re still a long way from safety. But when the Padres threatened, the Dodgers put a palm in San Diego’s collective forehead and pushed, leaving the underdogs to windmill their arms meaninglessly but never land a blow. Stop hitting yourself, little brother. See you in Game 2.





Michael is a writer at FanGraphs. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Ringer and D1Baseball, and his work has appeared at Grantland, Baseball Prospectus, The Atlantic, ESPN.com, and various ill-remembered Phillies blogs. Follow him on Twitter, if you must, @MichaelBaumann.

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jamesdakrnmember
1 year ago

This Dodgers feels a lot like Man City.

Down to Pep overthinking things in the CL/Roberts overthinking things in the postseason

connjc
1 year ago
Reply to  jamesdakrn

did Roberts do something controversial last night? It seems like he pushed the right buttons.

jamesdakrnmember
1 year ago
Reply to  connjc

Oh overall I had 0 problems and think at this point Roberts is underrated as a manager.

But the way both teams are built – especially w depth, does remind me of each club. And the fact that there still were hiccups in translating this ridiculous success in the league to the postseason/champions league outside of 2020.

Though I’m biased and I’ll say that of all the Dodgers october meltdowns from 2013-2019 and 2021 honestly none was as bad of a choke as losing to Spurs in 18-19