SAN DIEGO — In a playful mood in July 2019 at Dodger Stadium, Manny Machado decided to give as good as he got when a front-row heckler set his sights on the Padres’ newly minted $300 million man as he walked into the on-deck circle.
Congrats … You’ve got 10 straight Octobers off … You could have had it all in L.A.
Alternating windmills with the bat in each hand, Machado, surprisingly, turned to the Dodgers fan.
“Bet you my contract,” he said, “that we’ll win the World Series before you guys do.”
A bold if certainly not binding proposition as Machado settled into his new home in San Diego.
While Machado had no idea his Padres would be standing directly in the Dodgers’ path a year later in this week’s NLDS matchup, albeit with two important arms potentially tied behind their back, the head-to-head meeting is quite a handful for even the winningest product in Padres history.
That’s because the 2020 Dodgers, like the Padres in this COVID-19-shortened season, won at a far higher clip than any other team in their 137-year history.
Not only was their .717 winning percentage 35 points better than the efforts of the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers and the 1899 Brooklyn Superbas, that rate extrapolated over a 162-game season would add up to a 116-win season, or 10 more victories than last year’s franchise-record product.
What a 43-17 mark meant this year was a six-game cushion in claiming an eighth straight NL West title even with the Padres posting the second-best record in the NL.
The Dodgers built that lead by pacing the majors with a plus-136-run differential, 52 runs better than the Padres, the next-best team.
They paired a former MVP (Mookie Betts) with their reigning MVP (Cody Bellinger). Their old Cy Young winner (Clayton Kershaw) returned to form to make up for an injury-riddled year from the current up-and-comer (Walker Buehler). Their old Achilles’ heel (the bullpen) became a strength this year. The nucleus has remained largely intact since the Dodgers have become perennial World Series contenders under the current regime.
As the heckler put it last summer, Machado — who played the second half of 2018 with the Dodgers — could have won five World Series in 10 years in L.A.
“Why haven’t you even won one?” Machado retorted.
DODGERS AT A GLANCE
2020 record: 43-17, first in NL West
— Manager: Dave Roberts (436-273, fifth season)
— Front office: Andrew Friedman, president of baseball operations
— Recent playoff history: The Dodgers have won eight straight division titles and are in their eighth straight NLDS after sweeping the Brewers in last week’s wild-card round. They lost in the World Series to the Astros and Red Sox in 2017 and 2018, respectively, and have not won a championship since 1988.
— 2020 against the Padres: The Dodgers won the season series 6-4, outscoring San Diego 56-29.
TALE OF THE TAPE
— Highest-paid Dodgers: LHP Clayton Kershaw ($31 million in 2020, before pro-rated reduction); RF Mookie Betts ($27M), 3B Justin Turner ($20M), RHP Kenley Jansen ($18M), OF A.J. Pollock ($15M).
— Highest-paid Padres: 3B Manny Machado ($30M), OF Wil Myers ($20M), 1B Eric Hosmer ($20M), RHP Garrett Richards ($8.5M), RHP Kirby Yates ($7.1M).
— Top Dodgers position players: RF Mookie Betts (3.0 WAR, fangraphs.com), SS Corey Seager (1.9 WAR), UT Chris Taylor (1.5 WAR), 3B Justin Turner (1.3 WAR), C Will Smith (1.3 WAR), CF Cody Bellinger (1.2 WAR).
— Top Padres position players: SS Fernando Tatis Jr. (3.0 WAR), 3B Manny Machado (2.6 WAR), OF Trent Grisham (2.3 WAR), OF Wil Myers (1.8 WAR), 2B Jake Cronenworth (1.5 WAR).
— Top Dodgers starting pitchers: RHP Tony Gonsolin (1.8 WAR), LHP Clayton Kershaw (1.4 WAR), LHP Julio Urias (1.1 WAR), RHP Walker Buehler (0.5 WAR), RHP Dustin May (0.5 WAR).
— Top Padres starting pitchers: RHP Dinelson Lamet (2.4 WAR), RHP Zach Davies (1.3 WAR), RHP Mike Clevinger (0.7 WAR), RHP Garrett Richards (0.7 WAR), RHP Chris Paddack (0.4 WAR).
— Top Dodgers relievers: LHP Jake McGee (0.7 WAR), LHP Victor Gonzalez (0.6 WAR), RHP Dylan Floro (0.5 WAR), RHP Kenley Jansen (0.5 WAR), RHP Blake Treinen (0.5 WAR).
— Top Padres relievers: LHP Drew Pomeranz (0.8 WAR), RHP Trevor Rosenthal (0.4 WAR), RHP Pierce Johnson (0.3 WAR), RHP Craig Stammen (0.3 WAR), RHP Dan Altavilla (0.2 WAR).
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Spinning their wheels in the postseason over the last seven years, the Dodgers added another superstar over the offseason to attack their World Series drought and Mookie Betts has certainly played like one. His .292 batting average did not compete for a batting title and his .366 on-base percentage was more than 72 points off his MVP campaign in Boston, but his .562 slugging percentage was the second best of his career (even if that, too, was more than 70 points off that 2018 season in Boston). Only six players, including Fernando Tatis Jr. (17), finished with more home runs than Betts, who hit 16 with a career-best 13.7 at-bats per home run rate.
Padres pitchers served up three of those home runs in the same game. Two were off right-hander Luis Perdomo, who was not on the Padres’ wild-card roster. The other was off the struggling Chris Paddack, who was pressed into a playoff because of the injuries to Dinelson Lamet and Mike Clevinger.
Betts hit .429/.484/.786 over 31 plate appearances against the Padres this year, although most of his damage came off Perdomo. He did not have more than one hit off any other Padres pitcher this year.
Against the Padres’ most reliable starter, Betts was 1 for 6 with one strikeout against right-hander Zach Davies.
For his career, Betts is a .338/.413/.538 hitter against current Padres pitchers, but has been quieted to date by right-hander Garrett Richards (2 for 12), which might lead the Padres to consider re-inserting him into the rotation. Especially if neither Lamet (2 for 6) nor Clevinger (4 for 9) are no closer to returning to action.
The Dodgers, of course, have plenty of bats to worry about, but some of the usual suspects — Cody Bellinger (.789 OPS), Max Muncy (.720 OPS), Joc Pederson (.681 OPS) and Kike Hernandez (.680 OPS) — have struggled for much of 2020.
The Padres could find themselves in decent shape if they find a way to contain Betts.
©2020 The San Diego Union-Tribune