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ESPN’s Pedro Gomez covered the Oakland A’s for the San Jose Mercury News and the Sacramento Bee almost daily from 1992 to 1997 before becoming a national baseball reporter and then a general assignment columnist for the Republic of Arizona, before becoming an ESPN agency reporter in 2003.
Few people would dispute the fact that the San Diego Padres took a major step forward in 2020. Not only did they make their first post-season performance in 14 years, but they also made national headlines with their youthful and enthusiastic playing style, which showed an exuberance that is rarely seen in the current game. They were probably the best club to watch last season.
But the Padres season ended in the hands of the best Los Angeles Dodgers, who also had seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers, Atlanta Braves and Tampa Bay Rays. The Dodgers are the measure of all things in Major League Baseball. They have reached their third World Series in the last four years and are finally looking forward to winning it all in 2020. It’s easy to find a team, especially in the National League: Find a way to defeat the Dodgers.
But here’s another thought: You don’t necessarily have to develop a plan to defeat the Dodgers and overcome their incredible talent and huge payroll during a grueling 162-game regular season, but you do have to develop a plan to do your best in a post-season series of five or seven games. It’s a formula that other clubs have successfully used lately against rival jugglers.
In the mid nineties the Marlins had a seat in the front row to see the Braves dominate NL. Their goal was to find a way to get the Braves out of the programming in a short series in October. At the start of the 1997 season, Atlanta had participated in four of the five previous world series.
We knew we had to go through the Braves to make progress, said Jim Leyland, the manager of the Marlins in 1997. We knew our only chance was to attack these guys. We felt as good as anybody else. We didn’t win the division, but we were well enough equipped for the post-season.
Similarly, in early 2000, the Boston Red Sox made a joke about confronting the evil empire, also known as the New York Yankees, who had competed in the World Series six times in the eight years since 1996.
Each of these clubs has found a way to beat a superior team when it comes down to it, i.e. at the end of the season.
The current champion of the World Series Dodger shows few signs of slowing down after winning eight consecutive titles in the west of NL. They have a relatively young team with budding superstars Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager and Walker Buehler, as well as veterans who had Clayton Kershaw in their sights.
The Dodgers are a problem that the Padres, just like any other player in the league, has to deal with. The Padres – like the Marlins in 1997 with the Braves in eastern NL and the Red Sox in 2004 with the Yankees in eastern AL – have a good chance of becoming the best club in the league, as they play in the same league as the Marlins at that time and are only two hours apart.
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I think you’re always aware of the teams in your league, the teams you have to beat if you want to win a pennant or a world series, said Padres general manager A.J. Preller. But in general we focus on what is good for us, on what we think we can win over time, on 162 races. It’s not just about qualifying for the playoffs, it’s about winning a championship. Most of these activities are not carried out with one team.
It is important to note that neither the 1997 Marlins nor the 2004 Red Sox have entered the season as divisional race losers. Both teams built solid lists that made them believe they were good enough to crush the opposition. Although the Marlins (8-4 against the Braves in the regular season) and the Red Sox (11-8 against the Yankees) finished second, they were better than their opponents.
For us, it was more about the decision to make the play-offs, and we’ll get to work on that once we get there. Alan Embree, a key member of the 2004 Red Sox team, talked about how the Sox treated the Yankees. You have a collection of your favorites and losers. As outsiders, we tend to believe in ourselves that we are not abandoning anyone and that we are not afraid of anyone. Every time we played the Yankees, it was like a battle for the heavyweight title. But we knew they weren’t better than us.
The Padres are in a similar situation. They never showed their admiration for the Dodgers during the 2020 season, not even during a sweep of the NL Division play-offs when the Padres were hit hard by injuries to their top two starters, Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet.
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The Padres must come up with a plan to destroy the first division of NL West. They have to find a way to exploit the weaknesses of the Dodgers, which don’t come to light easily. Left-handed launchers are a potential problem. In 2020 the Dodgers had the best record in the league with 27-9 against right-handed players and 16-8 against left-handed players in the league. It was good enough for a fourth place in the league, but if you’re looking for a chance, it may be one of the few you can find against Los Angeles. Of the Dodgers’ five losses this year, three were when faced with a left-handed starter.
Left-handed Blake Snell crossed the Dodger line in Game 6 of the World Series before surprisingly being thrown out in Game 6. It shows that a good left side can do it against the Dodgers. Rumor has it that Snell, a former Cy Young prizewinner, is available through the trade, and it would make perfect sense for the Padres to take him with them. San Diego has a well-filled minor league system and could be a trading partner for most. Jose Quintana, a free agent, is also a left-handed free agent.
Maybe the Padres should take a look at it. Mackenzie Gore (third overall in 2017) and Ryan Weathers (seventh overall in 2018), along with young flamethrower Adrian Morejon, are all left-handed pitchers and could very well be part of the puzzle to knock the Dodgers out of their game. But Gore and Weathers haven’t made the big leagues yet, and Morejon has limited experience in the big leagues.
Even with the Dodgers’ strong pitch, the Padres should have enough attack to succeed in a short series. Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis, Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers emphasize the strong middle of the order. The two clubs will meet 19 times in 2020, giving the Padres a good idea of what they will encounter when they meet again at the end of the season.
De Padres saw an opportunity against the Dodgers this season and followed the same path as the Red Sox in 2004, when general manager Theo Epstein strengthened his club by acquiring shortstop Orlando Cabrera and first choice player Doug Mintzkiewicz, who both won the Golden Glove. That’s because Epstein realized that a likely confrontation with the Yankees would require giving up unnecessary trips.
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Because he feels he has a legitimate chance to face the Dodgers in the post-season, Preller has made a deal to take over Clevinger, left-handed Mitch Moreland, receiver Austin Nola and closer to Trevor Rosenthal. As so often in the late season, it didn’t really work for the Padres, but they showed that they were willing to try their luck if they thought so. A model has now been established.
The reality is that the Padres will never be able to compete fully with the Dodgers financially and as a team, said Preller. So, what’s your next best thing? Let’s do our best and if we can, we can beat them in a series of seven games.
The fact that the Padras are on this page is proof of the process they have gone through over the years. These windows won’t stay open for long for organisations, especially those that don’t have the financial strength of the Dodgers. That’s why watching the Padres continue their ascent could be one of the best movements of the coming years.
The Marlins won the World Series in 1997 and the Red Sox in 2004.