The Los Angeles Dodgers entered the 2021 Major League Baseball season as the reigning World Series champions. The San Diego Padres acquired every star player they could land the last offseason. That was before signing young star Fernando Tatis Jr. to a gigantic extension in February. The expectation was the two Southern California rivals would battle to the finish for the National League West title.
But it didn’t start that way. The Padres stumbled a bit out of the gate and were just 10–10 to begin the season. After a 13–2 start, LA lost 14 of their next 18 games before righting the ship. The San Francisco Giants surprised with a quick start, but the Padres and Dodgers have moved to the front of the division. But can either of them gain any breathing room?
San Diego Padres finish a perfect homestand and can’t gain any ground
With six RBI and a pair of home runs on Sunday, Tatis powered the San Diego Padres to a 9–2 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep. It also completed a perfect 9–0 homestand for the Padres, who have won 12 of their last 13 overall. They now lead the division.
But that lead remains just one game despite their recent exploits. That’s because the Los Angeles Dodgers are winning at nearly the same pace. On Sunday in San Francisco, Julio Urias became the first Dodger pitcher with a 3-RBI game since 2014. LA’s 11–5 win completed a three-game sweep of the Giants on the heels of a four-game whitewashing of the Arizona Diamondbacks earlier in the week.
The Dodgers have won seven in a row and 11 of their last 12 and trail the Padres by just one game. San Francisco is hanging in there, now two games behind San Diego after entering the three-game weekend set leading the NL West.
Los Angeles Dodgers keep adding weapons
The Los Angeles Dodgers were a sizzling 43–17 in the shortened 2020 season and have the star power to make another deep postseason run. LA is getting big production from first baseman Max Muncy, who clubbed his team-high 10th home run on Sunday. Former American League MVP Mookie Betts is hitting just .258 with five homers. He sat out Sunday with a sore shoulder.
The Dodgers just added future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols, signing him May 17 after his release from the Los Angeles Angels. The 41-year-old Pujols gives LA a right-handed bat off the bench and a first baseman to spell Muncy against tough left-handers. Pujols is 5-for-19 since coming to the Dodgers, with a homer and five RBI. The Angels cut him loose after he slashed just .198/.250/.372 in 92 plate appearances.
2020 Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer has been worth the investment, posting a 1.98 ERA and 88 strikeouts in 63.2 innings over 10 starts. LA caught a tough break when hard-throwing right-hander Dustin May needed Tommy John surgery after blowing an elbow ligament earlier this month.
Padres, Dodgers fighting to avoid the Wild Card Game crapshoot
The San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers are scorching hot right now, but only one of them can win the NL West. The other would likely host the Wild Card Game. San Diego is currently on pace to win 103 games; LA is on a 100-win clip. Should both teams remain on pace for triple-digit victories, whoever finishes second would be just the fifth team in the divisional era (since 1969) to finish second with that many wins.
It most recently happened in 2018, when the New York Yankees were 100–62 and finished eight games behind the eventual World Series champion Boston Red Sox. The 2001 Oakland A’s won 102 games and were 14 games off the pace of the Mariners. The best second-place team of the divisional era played in 1993 when the Giants finished 103–59 and missed the playoffs entirely. The Atlanta Braves got 104 victories in the final season that only division champs made the postseason.
The first 100-win divisional runner-up was the 1980 Baltimore Orioles, who at 100–62 were three games behind the Yankees when the dust settled. Before the advent of divisional play, six teams won at least 100 games and finished second in the league standings, the last coming in 1962 when the Giants and Dodgers each won 101 games and played a best-of-three tiebreaker.
The Wild Card Game is a one-and-done coin flip. But it looks likely that either the San Diego Padres or the Los Angeles Dodgers will have to take that route to the postseason.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.