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The New Edition of the Dodgers-Padres Rivalry Is About to Be Appointment Viewing

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Juan Soto’s era of trade chatter was as intense as it was brief: like two and a half weeks of living in a dark metal bunker with someone banging on the walls outside. And even now, when the dust has settled and we go out, squinting into the bright and unfamiliar sunlight, it’s hard to come to terms with the idea that Soto wears anything other than the national colors.

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But we have to fight because Soto is being shuffled into one of the strongest rosters in the sport, made even more attractive by the inclusion of Josh Bell in the Soto deal, the simultaneous Padres deal with Brandon Drury and the news that Fernando Tatis Jr. faces a live pitch and prepares to go on a rehab assignment.

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Since around 2019, when the Tatis burst onto the scene and the Padres signed Manny Machado from the Dodgers, San Diego has been seen as the team that will end a decade of Dodger dominance in the West of the Netherlands. (Yes, Los Angeles didn’t win the division last year, but the Dodgers won 106 games, finished a game behind the Giants, and then beat the said Giants in the NLDS. That mostly counts.) No one has beaten in the past in this drum is stronger. four years than Ringer; Last year, we devoted an entire week of our pre-season schedule to this topic. But the Padres didn’t live up to their end of the bargain.

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Presented at NLDS 2020 one game for the ages, but ultimately ended in victory for the Dodgers. The Padres dropped below .500 last year. And in 2022, the heroism of Machado and Joe Musgrove failed to keep the brothers in touch with their older brothers from the coast. At the time of Soto’s trade, the Dodgers were 12 games ahead of San Diego in the division.

But that was before the trade deadline, when San Diego managing director AJ Preller was apparently trying to make up that entire gap in one day.

So, 12 games is too big a deficit to close in two months, no matter what moves the Padres have made this week. But if these two teams meet in the playoffs, they will now be much more equal. And given Soto’s unrivaled ability at the base and Tatis’ unique skill set, the Padre could even be considered the favorite.

It is far from certain that these two teams will meet in October; The Dodgers are nearly locked into one of two NL bye-byes in the first round, and whoever wins the NL East (probably the Mets, maybe the Braves) should take the other. (The Fathers are in the No. 5 seed, about halfway between the Braves and the Phillies.) And that doesn’t mean the Padres are the only team that can challenge the Dodgers or put on a show in the postseason. About two-thirds of what I’m going to write about these two teams applies to the Mets-Braves rivalry, and Atlanta has given as much as LA in the last two NLCS.

But good sports narratives require a lot of rivalry, familiarity, and contrasting styles. The fact that two teams so pompous and full of talent play 19 times a year is already funny enough, but now they’ve set the perfect momentum to create the ultimate rivalry.

“Styles decide fights” is an old cliché, and from a strict tactical standpoint, there isn’t much difference between the Padres and the Dodgers. Both teams invest heavily in the starting pitch and rely on their scouting and development teams to create lineups where all nine positions can get base and hit. The Padres tend to rebuild their bullpen more than the Dodgers, but that’s a nitpick.

Where they differ is in team identity. The Dodgers, with their 138-year history, classic stadium, snow-white uniforms, seven titles and 25 pennants, are the establishment. This does not mean that they are boring or prone to rework, but they are old money in this rivalry. Particularly because they’re up against a franchise that has almost no history or identity to speak of. Like, the Padres have Tony Gwynn, Trevor Hoffman, brown kit (brown!) and Innings. (Return Innings!)

Dodgers star players – Mookie Betts, Clayton Kershaw, Freddie Freeman – are affable, but rather straightforward. And although individual Dodgers are strange, in a harmless sense, for example, Astronaut Cody Bellinger’s face or Tony Gonsolin’s love for cats.

However, the Padres have a slight advantage. Machado is prone to bouts of readjustment. Tatis’ bat flips over stir up a national controversy. They have long hair and unbuttoned uniforms; catcher Jorge Alfaro is slowly turning into an Australian surf rock guitarist.

The Dodgers play like the best team in the National League because that’s what they’ve been for as long as anyone can remember. The padres are played as if they are trying to prove to everyone, including themselves, that they are in this conversation. And heck, if you can’t beat them, trade for zoomer Ted Williams, right?

It is important to remember that a great rivalry does not have to be a game of morality or good versus evil. Sports have had enough of the Beatles versus the Rolling Stones, law-abiding versus random, Dean versus Jess. When fans from 29 other teams band together to cheer for the Yankees or the Astros, it’s frankly not as exciting as watching neutrals split down the middle based on intuition and aesthetics.

So, as one of those neutral players, I’m happy to see Soto even out the balance of power between these teams and end up with a club that isn’t afraid to be a little edgy.

Make no mistake, Soto understands that he is an artist. But he is optimistic, positive, almost like a Trout artist: competitive, but above all friendly. So what would happen if a little Machado switched to him? What happens if shuffling and looking becomes something he does in opponents, a formidable ritual instead of a routine? I have goosebumps.

We won’t have to wait long to see the shape of the next chapter of the Dodgers-Padres rivalry; the two teams meet in Los Angeles this weekend and play each other 12 times in the last two months of the regular season. Presumably, we are in for a lot of home runs, difficult descents, arguments and demonstrative celebrations. We may even see the first real shift in the balance of power since the mid-2000s.

Until this winter, when the Dodgers inevitably trade Shohei Otani and bring him back.


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