It's Official: The Dodgers Have A True Challenger in the NL West And it's The Padres

After 7 meetings in 10 days San Diego has proven to be a legitimate threat to L.A.'s rule

The Dodgers have won eight straight National League West division titles and played in three of the last four World Series, winning it last year. The Padres went 14 years between playoff appearances with just one winning record.

The Padres have been less of a rival than an annoyance. Not anymore.

These franchises played seven times over the last 10 days. The Padres won four of them and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said something I don’t recall ever hearing from him before.

“I think that, just kind of the net is, they outplayed us,” says Roberts. “All the games were close, but … yeah, seven games, they outplayed us.”

It’s not just that San Diego outplayed Los Angeles. It’s what they overcame to do it.

The Padres just played 17 games in 17 days in four stadiums in three time zones. By the time Sunday night rolled around, they were on fumes. Then they fell behind the Dodgers 7-1 after six innings.

In the last 50 years teams down by six or more runs after six innings were 100-13,547. So, you’d understand if the Friars said, you know what? It’s April. We have a series split and 138 games left this season. Let’s just get out of here and get some rest.

That’s not how this team rolls.

“This team has zero quit in it. With the power we have in this lineup it doesn’t take much to get us back in the game,” says Joe Musgrove, Sunday night’s starter who didn’t have his best stuff, giving up two runs in three innings of work. “You’re not gonna roll over. These series are gonna be like this all year long.”

San Diego scored two runs in the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings to tie it then got the game-winner in the 11th inning against the team with the best record in baseball and a pitching staff stacked with power arms.

“It seemed like we were going through the gauntlet as an offense,” says 1st baseman Eric Hosmer. “I don’t think I’ve seen a fastball under 98 miles an hour in the last, like, 10 days. It just truly tested us as an offense.”

This weekend series was nothing short of incredible and the headliner was the Fernando Tatis Jr. show.

He hit two bombs against Clayton Kershaw in a win on Friday, then two more off Trevor Bauer on Saturday, the only game the Padres lost in L.A., becoming the first player ever to have consecutive multi-home run games against Cy Young Award winners. Then he took Dustin May deep on Sunday for another first.

Dodger Stadium was built in 1962. The only visiting player ever to hit five homers in a three-game span there is not Hank Aaron or Willie Mays or Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire. It’s Fernando Tatis Jr., the 22-year-old who already runs the baseball world.

“I truly believe he’s the best talent in baseball. He’s the face of baseball and he showed why,” says Hosmer. “He’s so special in what he does on the field, but as a teammate, as well. I’m proud to be one of his teammates and I’m enjoying every piece of history he’s a part of. I’ve got the best seat in the house for it and I’m enjoying the ride.”

That's not even mentioning Tatis Jr. throwing a 5-gallon drum of gasoline on the rivalry fire with his trolling of Bauer.

Not to be overlooked is the Padres bullpen. That group has thrown more innings than any relief corps in the game and continues to put up a series of gutsy scoreless frames.

“I think what meant the most was watching a group of men not give in, not give up, keep going, work together, chip away,” says Padres manager Jayce Tingler. “It felt like we had to throw a lot of body blows, body blows, body blows, both teams going back and forth. But, just the attitudes and the guys continuing to drive and fight, that’s the most special to me.”

When a team goes through a stretch like this it learns a few things about what it’s really made of.

“We found out there’s different ways we can win a ballgame,” says Hosmer. “We came from behind, we’ve tried to get runs early. It just shows the character of this team. We never feel like we’re out of a game. We always feel like we have a shot.”

They’re going to get 12 more shots against the Dodgers this year and what’s crazy is, neither team is at full strength yet.

San Diego is missing ace Dinelson Lamet and starting catcher Austin Nola while Wil Myers has been in and out of the lineup with a knee ailment. Los Angeles doesn’t have Cody Bellinger, who’s out with a broken bone.

When all those guys get healthy, this series is going to get even better. As Tatis Jr. said over the weekend:

“It’s the best rivalry in baseball.”

It gets renewed at Petco Park on June 21 but something tells me that these teams will have more than a dozen more meetings in 2021.

LISTEN: With NBC 7 San Diego's Darnay Tripp and Derek Togerson behind the mic, On Friar will cover all things San Diego Padres. Interviews, analysis, behind the scenes...the ups, downs, and everything in between. Tap here to find On Friar wherever you listen to podcasts. 

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