By BETH HARRIS, AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The San Diego Padres defeated the New York Mets with 101 wins in the National League Wild Card Series.
An even bigger challenge awaits them in the National League Division Series: the 111-win Los Angeles Dodgers.
“They’re hot and we’ve been hot for seven months,” a smile, or was it a smirk? — Dodgers slugger Freddie Freeman said Monday.
Call it a postseason Freeway Series.
“It’s going to be a very intense series,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
Unlike the regular season.
The Southern California rivals were separated by a whopping 22 games in the NL West, with the Dodgers controlling first place for much of the time and the Padres finishing second.
“They hit us pretty good this year, so we realize what we’re up against,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said. “It feels a little better now that we’re not looking at qualifying.”
That’s not the only way the Dodgers dominated the Padres. Los Angeles went 15-4 against them, never losing a series and outscoring them 109-47.
As a result, the Dodgers are solid favorites entering the best-of-five NLDS that begins Tuesday night in Los Angeles. In Game 1, right-hander Mike Clevinger takes the mound for the Padres against lefty Julio Urias, a 17-game winner for the Dodgers.
Right-hander Yu Darvish, a 16-game winner, starts for the Padres in Game 2 on Wednesday against lefty Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers’ three-time Cy Young Award winner.
The Dodgers are well rested, having been out since the end of the regular season a week ago. As the Padres flew cross-country to outlast the Mets 16-8 in winning the wild-card series in three games, the Dodgers played simulated games in their empty stadium.
They met at a high-end steakhouse Sunday night for a team dinner with the decisive Padres-Mets game in the background. Watching Padres pitcher Joe Musgrove have his ears checked for illegal substances by the umpire, “he got a little louder in the room,” Freeman said.
San Diego improved at the trade deadline by adding closer Josh Hader and two-time All-Star Juan Soto, who was a teammate of current Dodger Trea Turner on the Washington Nationals.
Hader closed out Game 3 against the Mets and Soto went 2-for-4 with two RBIs in the decider.
The Dodgers signed Freeman in March, adding offensive muscle to an already potent lineup. Freeman batted .325 and finished .001 points behind the Mets’ Jeff McNeil for the NL batting title.
The last time the Padres were in the playoffs for a full season in front of fans in 2006, Roberts was their leadoff hitter and left fielder. He will be able to sleep in his own bed during the NLDS since he lives in the San Diego area.
Walker Buehler will be on the mound for Game 2 on Wednesday to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. The two-time All-Star who helped the Dodgers win the 2020 World Series underwent the second Tommy John surgery of his career in August. He’s not expected to return until the 2024 season. Buehler went 6-3 with a 4.02 ERA in 12 starts this season before having the surgery.
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