In this edition of MLB Rivalries, we’re looking at a rivalry between two National League (NL) West teams that has become increasingly intense; the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres.
Dodgers fan and team contributor Freddie Law-Keen, along with Padres fan and freelance journalist Alex Hoad, will break down what the rivalry means to them and their team, and how they see the rivalry developing given both teams have become perennial World Series contenders in recent years.
Los Angeles Dodgers
In 2017, Dean Spanos, owner of the NFL’s San Diego Chargers, informed the San Diego fans of 56 years that the team would be relocating to Los Angeles. Now LA had taken something that didn’t belong to them, and left San Diego with only one sports team in the four American major sports leagues, the Padres.
The Padres quickly became the city’s most important asset. The Friars were the heroes who stood up when other idols were taken from the San Diego residents. The heroes of the city needed a nemesis. They needed the character that got everyone’s blood pressure raised. For this production, the villain will be played by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
By January 2017, when Spanos announced the Chargers were leaving, the Dodgers were a fully-oiled winning machine that was just reaching the peak of its powers; the team had won four NL West divisional titles in a row, while, in the same period, the Padres didn’t make a .500 winning season. We weren’t really taking much note of the Padres. Almost in a division of our own, we were trying to build a World Series team as effectively as the Giants had made from 2010-2014. However, we weren’t aware of the fury that was building to the south.
By the start of the 2019 season, the Dodgers had stretched their streak to six division titles in a row and two straight World Series appearances, while the Padres finished 66-96 (.407) the previous season. This, however, did not deter Manny Machado from signing with the Padres. Machado, who now was getting heckled and booed by Dodger fans, found himself at home in San Diego, with new fans who had nothing but antipathy for both the Dodgers and the city of Los Angeles.
In the shortened 2020 season, it appeared like the Padres team was fully forming into the vision it was built for. The team ended the season 37-23 (.617), which was third best in baseball and second best in the National League, topping everyone apart from their rivals in the NL West, the Dodgers who had a scorching 60 game season finishing 43-17 (.717).
The expanded playoffs led the Dodgers and Padres into a hotly-anticipated National League Divisional Series (NLDS) match-up. Machado and his impressive supporting cast – Tatis Jr, Cronenworth, Myers, Grisham – came into the series after beating the Cardinals 2-1. Could the team that was being built to destroy the Dodgers do what their city needed?
No. Instead, they got swept 3-0, and the Dodgers went on to win the World Series that year.
Two years later, and it was the same old Dodgers: winning the NL West with a 111-51 record, while the Padres squeaked into the Wild Card round. Inspiring pitching by Blake Snell and Yu Darvish, alongside with a few bullpen blow-ups, meant the Dodgers were stunned in Game 2 of the 2022 NLDS. Having stolen a game in LA, San Diego took the series down south and never let it go. Wrapped up in front of home fans in a stadium only admitting San Diego locals, the atmosphere was raucous, and their villain had been defeated.
These last two post season series have redefined the identity of both teams. The Dodgers are an unshakable winning machine who rely on the system to stay sustainable, but who can miss out on the one person to carry them to a golden moment. The Padres may not win the sheer volume of baseball games like the Dodgers, but it is a team with a lot of high-end talent.
The Padres can be a .400-win team but, when the Dodgers come down, they will be ready, the stadium will be packed, and the games will matter far more than a 1 in the Win/Loss column will ever be able to relay. Meanwhile, in LA, half the Padres line-up is getting booed for cheating or for betraying a fanbase, or just for being a Padre.
The Dodgers may have firmly fixed their eyes on the San Francisco Giants as their true rivals, but when a fly keeps buzzing around your head, eventually you have to turn and bat it away. Our boys in blue may never have imagined being caught between enemies directly to the North and South, but it seems as if the persistent Padres won’t be put off naming the Dodgers as their team to beat.
This tale has heroes, villains, separate sides to the story, and it is full of dramatic climaxes at every opportunity. Isn’t that everything we want a baseball rivalry to be?
Freddie Law-Keen is the LA Dodgers’ contributor for Bat Flips & Nerds, and can be found on Twitter @FLK_Sports.
San Diego Padres
The fact that I’ve been asked to write about the rivalry between the Padres and the Dodgers at all is pretty incredible. If you’d asked Dodgers fans at any point between 1969, when the Padres came into existence, and 2020, they would almost certainly deny it was a rivalry at all.
The two teams, separated by just 125 miles of the I-5, met for the first time in April 1969 in the very first fortnight of the very first Padres season. The Dodgers won 14-0. Then, they won 9-1 the following day. The tone had been set for the next few decades.
The bright-light big city Dodgers made three World Series appearances in the 1970s while the Padres were failing to get to .500, before a good period in the Eighties for the Padres with a World Series appearance in 1984, losing to the generationally good Detroit Tigers. Even that era got overshadowed by the Dodgers though, who won rings in 1981 and 1988.
The careers of all-time greats like Tony Gwynn, aka Mr Padre, and Trevor Hoffman then came and went, while the Dodgers won every divisional title from 2013 to 2020 and the Padres didn’t reach the postseason from 2006 until 2020.
It all changed in 2020, thanks in no small part to a lively young chap named Fernando Tatis Jr. After finishing below .500 for the previous ten seasons, the Padres posted a record of 37-23, which was still only good enough for second in the division behind ‘you know who.’ The Padres got past one old foe – the Cardinals – in the Wildcard series, but were swept by the Dodgers in the NLDS, the final game a brutal 12-3 beat-down designed to put the upstarts back in our place.
Which is why 2022 was so fun. Padres owner Peter Seidler told ESPN “They’re the dragon up the freeway that we’re trying to slay”, and with the help of a random goose, some stellar pitching, LFGSD T-shirts and Jake Cronenworth, that’s what happened. Sadly, the Phillies were a different monster and San Diego bowed out meekly in the National League Championship Series (NLCS).
Of course, geography is a large factor in the rivalry – until the past two seasons, Petco Park was a sea of blue when the Dodgers came to town. The opportunity to escape the living hell of LA and visit America’s Finest City, and ballpark, was clearly too good for the legions of bandwagon Dodgers fans to turn down.
My first face-to-face encounter with the Dodgers, and their fans, was watching Clayton Kershaw pitch a complete game in a Dodgers win at Petco in 2011. The following night, Hiroki Kuroda pitched a shutout and we lost 1-0 with Matt Kemp driving in the only run. Slap in the face after slap in the face.
Don’t ask me why I bothered, but the following April, Kershaw and the Dodgers won at Petco in my first and only Opening Day game, and each of those experiences were marred by being completely outnumbered in my section by Dodgers fans, many of whom were not afraid to heckle, at best, and abuse, at worst, the Padres fans trying, as we have always done, to keep the faith.
There are plenty of reasons to dislike the Dodgers other than geography though – they are simply bigger, burlier and louder. We also have to make do with hand-me-downs (Matt Kemp?) and, if we do have anything fun, they’ll inevitably snatch it away for themselves (Kevin Brown after the 1998 World Series). The inferiority complex has been bubbling away for nearly 55 years.
Whatever the truth, the fortunes of the Padres are inextricably tied to the Dodgers. The teams have met 935 times so far (you know what they say about familiarity breeding contempt) with the Dodgers winning 517 of them.
The Padres are the last major league show in San Diego and if the city’s wait for a title is ever to end, then you can be sure they’ll encounter the dragon up the freeway on that journey…
Alex Hoad is a Padres fan and freelance journalist for the BBC. He can be found on Twitter @AlexHoadSport.
Firstly, it should be said that Freddie and Alex each had A LOT to say about this rivalry, and both of their contributions had to be edited down so this edition of MLB Rivalries didn’t become Bat Flips and Nerds’ own version of War & Peace!
What it does, however, show is how the intensity and feelings in this rivalry have grown in recent years. Much of this is due to both teams having built elite rosters that are now viewed as perennial World Series contenders at the start of every season. Therefore, the fact that both teams are now expected to still be playing come October each season adds some spice to proceedings every time they play now, as there is a chance that they may meet again when it really counts.
In this sense then, the games between the Dodgers and the Padres are no longer about bragging rights – ‘Who is the best team in Southern California?’, ‘Can the upstart Padres defeat the Dodgers?’ and all that. Now, it’s potentially about ‘Who is the best team in all of MLB?’ and ‘Who will be holding aloft the World Series trophy come season’s end?’
Such possibilities add new dimensions to rivalries and only serve to deepen how much the rivalry means to both sets of fans.
And so, it will be interesting to see how this rivalry continues to develop given the plethora of talent each team possesses, and the expectation that talent brings.
Come back next week for another edition of MLB Rivalries!
Brett Walker is the Oakland Athletics team contributor for Bat Flips & Nerds, and can be found on Twitter @BrettChatsSport.
Featured image – Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images