When the Dodgers departed for their 7-game road trip to San Francisco and St. Louis, the prevailing feeling was that they’d finally begin to push past the Giants and take control of the National League West. After all, the pitching matchups in San Francisco certainly worked in their favor – LA had Urias and Buehler lined up against back-to-back bullpen games on Saturday and Sunday for the Giants.
Ultimately, the Dodgers just didn’t execute at a high enough level to take advantage of the opportunity in front of them. Friday night saw the offense go silent, stymied by a pitcher in DeSclafani that they’d punished all season previously. Still, they had a chance to start the series on the right note before an error would undo them in the 11th, adding to a long list of extra innings losses for the Dodgers in 2021. Julio Urias was brilliant on Saturday, delivering 5.2 strong innings en route to a 6-1 win. With a rubber match on deck Sunday with the division tied and the Dodgers sending Walker Buehler to the mound against a second straight San Francisco bullpen game, spirits were high. Instead, the Cy Young favorite had his worst outing of the season at the most inopportune time – and the Dodgers’ late comeback would fall short for a 6-4 loss.
Leaving San Francisco with a 1-game deficit wasn’t what the Dodgers had in mind, but was far from a disastrous situation. With how Colorado had played at home all season, Los Angeles’ hope was certainly that they’d make life difficult for the Giants at elevation this past week – after all, the Dodgers dropped 2 of 3 to those Rockies at Chavez Ravine not long ago. Instead, Colorado would allow 29 runs over 3 games and blow a 4-3 lead in the 9th inning of the series’ final game, allowing a Giants’ sweep that put a ton of pressure on the Dodgers.
The Dodgers responded with strong showings on Monday and Tuesday. Max Scherzer put forth the best outing the Dodgers have seen from a pitcher all season in St. Louis on Monday, holding the Cardinals scoreless while striking out 13 over 8 brilliant innings and putting pressure on teammate Walker Buehler in the NL Cy Young race. The Dodgers followed Monday’s 6-1 win with a 7-2 victory on Tuesday behind solid outings from a bevy of bullpen arms and 4 home runs.
Wednesday and Thursday were different stories entirely. Adam Wainwright shut down the Dodgers’ offense deep into the night, finally being knocked out of the game in the 9th inning with a 5-3 St. Louis lead. The Dodgers comeback would fall short in a 5-4 loss Wednesday, and the offense would go completely silent against Jake Woodford and a bunch of Cardinals’ bullpen pitchers in a 2-1 loss Thursday.
In theory, a 2-2 series split against a solid Cardinals team fighting hard for the Wild Card is a reasonable result. Had the Giants been what the league expected them to be, such a result would have been enough to maintain a 13-game division lead over the Padres while heading toward a comfortable finish. Given the Dodgers’ current standing, “reasonable” just isn’t good enough right now – if they hope to catch the Giants atop the division, they’ll need to start finding their mojo late in more of these close games.
With San Diego coming to town, the Dodgers face a 2.5 game deficit in the divisional race while the Giants visit the Cubs. The roster the Giants will face at Wrigley this weekend is a far, far cry from what the Dodgers had to deal with during their April visit – such is life when things aren’t breaking your way.
Ultimately, the Padres will have a ton of influence on the NL West division race while having no chance of actually winning the division. Over these final 4 weeks of the season, they’ll play 15 games against the Dodgers and Giants, starting with three at Dodger Stadium this weekend. The Padres have a fight of their own on their hands, currently holding a lead of only 1 game over the Reds and 3 games over the Cardinals in the Wild Card race with the Phillies and Mets lurking as well. They’ll be motivated, and would love nothing more than to pay the Dodgers back for their sweep in San Diego last week. With the Giants in Chicago this weekend taking on the Cubs’ Triple-A roster, the Dodgers would be ill-advised not to match San Diego’s energy.
Friday, September 10
7:10 pm PT
Joe Musgrove (10-8, 2.87 ERA) vs Julio Urias (16-3, 3.11 ERA)
Friday night’s tilt between San Diego and Los Angeles pits two pitchers against one another in the midst of career seasons. For Joe Musgrove, it’s been a homecoming season out of a dream. The El Cajon native has double digit wins for only the second time in his career, and is on pace to finish with an ERA under 3.00 for the first time. He hasn’t lost a single decision in his last 9 starts, most recently beating the Astros behind 5.1 innings last Saturday. The Dodgers haven’t seen Musgrove since June, when they managed 2 runs but only 2 hits over 6 innings.
Joe Musgrove’s effectiveness has been in large part a result of his ability to throw 4 different pitches at a high level. He’s thrown a Curveball, Slider, Fastball, and Cutter each 15% of the time or more, keeping hitters off balance while landing them all in the zone. He’s excelled in many areas as a result, including avoiding walks (75th percentile), avoiding hard contact (83rd percentile), as well as missing barrels (76th percentile Whiff% and 79th percentile Barrel%). The Dodgers will need to be ultra selective and make Musgrove work hard for outs – given his varied pitches and ability to throw them all for strikes, they’ll need to key in effectively on only the specific offering they’re looking for.
At this point, the Dodgers have a decent idea of what they’ll get with Julio Urias. He hasn’t lost a decision since June 21 and has been on fire since the beginning of August allowing more than 1 run only twice over 6 starts. He’ll likely give the Dodgers a good chance to win regardless, but some more offensive support (of which he’s had plenty in 2021) would go a long way.
Even as the Dodgers have surged in the standings, the offense has been disappointing of late. Their pitching has stepped up and found ways to pick up wins anyway, but something will need to change if the Dodgers are going to finally surpass the Giants once and for all.
Saturday, September 11
6:10 pm PT
Chris Paddack (7-6, 4.95 ERA) vs Walker Buehler (13-3, 2.31 ERA)
If Saturday’s pitching matchup looks like a mismatch, that’s because it is. Walker Buehler now finds himself in the thick of a tight Cy Young race with teammate Max Scherzer, and ought to be focused and effective Saturday night at home. He’s been solid against San Diego this season, allowing 5 total runs over 19.1 innings. Most recently, he pitched into the 7th inning while only allowing a run to the Friars on August 25. Especially after struggling his last time out, I’d bet on an intense Buehler Saturday night.
The Padres will finally expose Chris Paddack to the Dodgers on Saturday night for the first time in 2021, a matchup they’ve worked hard to avoid previously. The Dodgers beat up Chris Paddack for 9 runs over 9 innings in 2020, hitting 4 home runs in the process. Paddack has been brutalized by opposing offenses all season – he ranks in the 13th percentile of exit velocity against, 18th percentile in expected slugging percentage against, and in the 14th percentile of expected batting average against, per Baseball Savant. He’ll throw strikes (96th percentile BB%) and occasionally benefits from batted ball luck as a result – but given the Dodgers propensity for punishing right-handed pitching at Chavez Ravine, I’d bet on his leash being short on Saturday evening if San Diego wants to stay in the game against Walker Buehler.
Sunday, September 12
1:10 pm PT
Blake Snell (7-6, 4.22 ERA) vs Max Scherzer (13-4, 2.28 ERA)
When the Padres traded for Blake Snell, the reasoning felt transparent: after watching Snell cut up the Dodgers over two different World Series outings as a Tampa Bay Ray, San Diego knew they needed to target a guy who had their rival’s number. Much like their fanbase, the Padres’ front office has always seemingly spent more time thinking about the Dodgers than just about anything else – and watching their players’ emotions in games against Los Angeles in comparison to other opponents, it’s bled into the culture of the Padres’ dugout as well.
Few pitchers fit this cultural mold better than Snell. When given the opportunity to pitch at Petco Park in front of raucous San Diego crowds, he’s ridden that energy to excellent results (4-3, 2.50 ERA at home). As evidenced by a 6.18 road ERA and 42 walks, he just hasn’t been the same guy away from Petco Park. The Padres, similarly, are 44-31 at home and 30-34 on the road. Snell was just okay in one road start at Dodger Stadium this season, allowing 2 runs over 5.1 innings without earning a decision.
The biggest issue facing the Padres in a tight Wild Card race right now is their schedule – for a team so reliant on the energy of their home ballpark, the disturbing reality is they only have 7 home games left (and 16 on the road). They don’t play a single game against a non-contender the rest of the way, either – those 7 home games are against San Francisco and Atlanta, while the 16 road games are made up of 6 in Los Angeles and 7 in San Francisco with a 3-game trip to St. Louis still to come as well. If San Diego (and Blake Snell for that matter) are who they’ve been all season, they’ll have plenty of time to relax on the beach this October.
Even after a difficult road trip saw the Dodgers go 3-4 and fall 2.5 games behind in the NL West race, the Dodgers’ hopes of escaping the Wild Card game are far from gone. San Francisco still has 10 games on the schedule against the desperate Padres and another series with Atlanta, who they lost 2 of 3 to in late August. The Dodgers have 9 games remaining against bottom feeders Arizona and Colorado and are likely to avoid facing Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes when Milwaukee comes to town to finish the season prepping for an NLDS berth.
It’s time to hit the gas pedal for Los Angeles – that starts with getting the offense going behind the three-headed monster of Urias, Buehler, and Scherzer this weekend against the Padres.