The Dragon Up the Freeway
Padres owner Peter Seidler said it best about the Dodgers.
Seidler, the grandson of Walter O’Malley and nephew of Peter O’Malley, has an “it’s complicated” history with the Dodgers. Seidler told ESPN broadcasters last month that he has fond memories of listening to Vin Scully and growing up around the game. But one would be hard-pressed to find a Padres fan who doubts Seidler’s loyalty to San Diego in the here and now.
Many Padres fans (myself included) can relate to at least parts of Seidler’s connection to the Dodgers because of family ties, colleges, jobs, and other life events.
I grew up in a Los Angeles suburb and remember begging my dad to take me to Dodger Stadium so that I could see Sandy Koufax pitch. But Los Angeles never felt like “my city.” I went to college at UCSD and loved the vibe. San Diego is a better fit for me. I recently went through the experience of buying a new car and told my wife that I was open to any exterior color except “Dodger blue.” That was non-negotiable.
I know there are many of you who are “born and raised” San Diego Padres fans and that some of you hate all things LA with every fiber of your being. You’re hardwired to rage against the team, its fans, and Dodger Dogs. You watch on tv as fans arrive late to their stadium from gridlocked freeways and then leave in the seventh to sit in traffic again. Sometimes there is trash talking and fights in the stands. Games between the Padres and Dodgers have become increasing tense both on and off the field. It’s exhausting!
The difference between now and a decade ago is that Padres fans have hope. Our ownership group has brought in big name players for the express purpose of making the playoffs and competing with powerhouse clubs like the Dodgers.
There are reasons for optimism about the Padres’ chances this year against the Dodgers, and when I want to feel hopeful, I turn to my buddy Ryan Cohen.
“Both teams are good! That’s what bothers us so much. We wouldn’t ‘hate’ each other if one or both teams were irrelevant.”
– Ryan Cohen
Ryan concedes that the Padres seem to play their worst baseball against the Dodgers. “It always feels like we’re one big play from a complete meltdown,” he says. But Ryan also believes that the talent levels of the two teams are similar, and it’s going to come down to the Padres playing their “best version of baseball” in the games ahead. “Hey,” he says, “anything can happen in the playoffs, just get to the dance.”
My friend Erica is more of a realist. She’s hoping that the Padres: a) make the playoffs; and b) that the Dodgers get eliminated before we face the prospect of facing them in the NLDS.
I asked her what it will take for the Padres to win games against the Dodgers more consistently going forward.
“I honestly don’t know. Maybe wait for their front office to become inept again is my guess. Their front office is just so good, and they’re outperforming us. We really need to focus more on analytics.”
Craig Elsten, longtime broadcaster and analyst covering San Diego sports, agrees that the Dodgers have the edge over the Padres when it comes to their investment in analytics – but also believes that the systemic disparities between the organizations run even deeper.
“The biggest difference to me between the Dodgers and the Padres,” Elsten says, “is that the Dodgers have created the groundwork for a system that restocks their franchise.” He says there is a “deep consistency” in terms of how the Dodgers put their team together and that their system allows for flexibility if they choose to make a blockbuster deal for players such as Mookie Betts or Max Scherzer to augment homegrown talent. “The Padres have been put together almost entirely from the outside and don’t have that consistency,” Elsten says.
“From a player personnel standpoint, I think the clubs are not that far apart. The way LA takes fringe guys like Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney and turns them into sub-3 ERA pitchers, it’s amazing. And I think that’s where the comparison gets a lot harder. LA feels like a ‘smarter’ organization than SD, and that’s hard to overcome in a 162-game season.”
Okay, so that’s the bad news about the Dodgers’ competencies. The good news is that they have a history of faltering in the post-season, including in 2019 after winning a very “dragon-like” 106 regular season games (setting a franchise record). They faced the Washington Nationals (with home field advantage) in the NLDS. In the decisive final game at Dodger Stadium, Juan Soto tied it up with a monstrous homerun off Clayton Kershaw. The Nats won the game, series, and eventual World Series trophy.
Juan Soto is not afraid of the Dodgers. He told reporter AJ Cassavell as much earlier this month. Cassavell asked him what it would take for this Padres team to “reach the Dodgers’ level.” Soto responded by saying: “What level? We’re both in the big leagues.” Cassavell said Soto’s tone was defiant.
Dodger fans will probably ramp up the boos for Soto down the stretch along with their other least favorite Padres: Manny Machado and Joe Musgrove. But, hey, bring it on. This is the time of year when star players step up, unlikely heroes emerge, and exciting storylines unfold.
Remember when the Padres briefly had a ceramic black panther in the dugout as a good luck charm? Then the team went into a late-August slump and suddenly the broken remains of “Feisty Tom” were found by reporters in the Padres clubhouse. The players reportedly took a bat to it. I’m no expert, but that sounds like dragon-slaying practice to me.
I’m calling it now. The Polaroid photo of Peter Seidler next to a slain dragon is going to be absolutely lit.
What we have now that has been missing is a strong on-field leader. Manny is the key. He exudes emotion and drive. If he stays healthy, stays committed to SD (and I think he is really connected here), the team will rally around him and he is capable of bringing out the best in his teammates.
Absolutely! Thanks for reading and for your comment, Rick. Go Padres!