Now that the first month of baseball is over, there isn’t quite one team in any division that’s running away with it. Although the season is still early, it’s still fun as a fan to take a look at the leaderboards and see where teams are standing. While there are clear favorites, certain teams will ultimately fall out of contention come July and August. But so far, this tension has made for more exciting baseball across the league as a whole because on any given week, there could be a different team-leading each division.
Now that we’re in the first week of May, the NL West is a clear candidate for producing some of the most exciting baseballs of the season so far.
When coming into the 2021 season, it was hard not to look at the Dodgers as the clear favorites to run away with not only another NL West Division title but also possibly another World Series victory. The Padres certainly have other plans. After making their first postseason in fourteen years last year, the Padres have been nipping at the heels of the Dodgers. Their rivalry has been brewing, and now that the Padres made high-profile acquisitions in the offseason, they clearly aren’t going to let the Dodgers run away with it so easily.
In the middle of April, the Dodgers were cruising through the league standings, holding down the best record in baseball with only two losses. They weren’t quite at peak form, due to key players being out of their lineup due to injury, but they were formidable nonetheless. They were unstoppable atop the National League West standings, ahead by more than three games and nothing was slowing them down…or so you would have thought.
The Dodgers would have you believe that the NL West is theirs to own. Essentially, it’s them and everyone else. But all that would change on the night of April 16th when they faced the Padres in one of the most exciting games of the season so far.
“I’m very hesitant to get ahead of things, but it was like a playoff game,” Roberts said. It is hard to argue when exactly the rivalry between the Dodgers and Padres actually began, but I’d place it on the notion that the Padres were always looked at as the David and Dodgers were the monstrous Goliath. For years, the pent-up emotions that Padres fans have been feeling towards the Dodgers has been brewing, knowing full well it was always an uphill battle to dethrone one of the most formidable foes in baseball.
But AJ Preller has been doing his due diligence, putting together a key combination of generational talent that could coalesce into a winning ball club that could compete. If the Dodgers didn’t believe the rivalry was there, after April 16th, that notion was surely upended.
After being on the ten-day IL, Fernando Tatis Jr. was making his triumphant return after suffering a debilitating shoulder injury. Petco fans in attendance would let it be known that they had one thing on their mind when shouting “BEAT LA!”. It was a battle back and forth much of the game, both teams capitalizing on mistakes and coming up with key hits at opportune times.
Ultimately the Dodgers would be victorious after heading into extra innings and would come away with an 11-6 victory. But the game definitely took a chip out of the Dodgers armor because the Padres proved one thing, and that was that they could compete against one of the best teams in baseball.
The Dodgers would be knocked down another peg after Padres would face the Dodgers the following week, ultimately taking three out of the four games. Their rivalry was cemented even further after Tatis Jr. would go on to mock Trevor Bauer, once holding his hand over his eye after running the base path after hitting his first home run of the night, the other time doing the Bauer strut when walking back to the dugout after homering for the second time that same game.
Bauer took the mocking in stride and later said he’s “all for it.” This banter back and forth I would argue is only beneficial for the game and has the ability to attract a new audience, one that is attracted to rivalries, showmanship, and ultimately a high level of play that makes the game on the field all the more fun to watch.
After losing that last series against the Padres in April, the Dodgers would go onto a two and eight record over their next ten games. Now that we’re into the first week of May baseball, the Dodgers no longer have a stranglehold over the NL West. Currently, the sneaky Giants are sitting a half-game up above the Padres in the standings and the Dodgers are only 1.5 games back.
It would be foolish to discount the Dodgers, but they have certainly been challenged in the National League West, and if their Postseason arrival is viewed as inevitable, they’ll be heading into October a little battered and bruised.