This isn’t October baseball.
This is a march across a Texan desert.
And the Dodgers’ opponents showed up without any water.
Whatever offensive troubles the Dodgers are experiencing at the moment, whatever concerns there are about Kenley Jansen and the back end of their bullpen, it’s hard to imagine them failing to win their National League Division Series against the San Diego Padres.
The Padres don’t have the pitching.
The Dodgers exploited the shortcoming in a 5-1 victory Tuesday night in Game1, waling on the fifth and sixth relievers the Padres deployed from their worn-down bullpen.
Just two innings into the series opener, the Padres’ situation went from disconcerting to borderline catastrophic.
The team’s prized trade-deadline acquisition, Mike Clevinger, retreated to the visiting clubhouse at Globe Life Field with a trainer by his side. Clevinger had returned to the Padres’ rotation after missing their wild-card series against the St. Louis Cardinals because of elbow problems.
Forget about how the Padres’ party bus was in danger of running out of gas. At that moment, one of the front tires fell off.
Clevinger had pitched only one inning since Sept.13 but nonetheless counted as one of only two legitimate starters available in this series. Zach Davies was the other.
Dinelson Lamet, a Cy Young Award candidate, remained sidelined with tightness in his arm. Garrett Richards was banished the bullpen.
The shortage of starters has placed an unreasonable burden on the Padres’ bullpen in the wild-card round.
The Padres used seven relievers in Game1 of the three-game series and eight in both Games2 and 3. The bullpen pitched a combined 21innings in the series.
Which made the opening game of this NLDS a virtual must-win for them.
Their only realistic path to victory was to ride Clevinger in Game1, then rely on their bullpen to win two more games.
The absence of days off during the series figured to compound the bullpen’s workload. The more games that were played, the more fatigued their relievers figured to become.
The Padres’ plan lasted two pitches into the second inning.
Padres manager Jayce Tingler emerged from the bench with a trainer by his side. They exchanged words with Clevinger, and that was it. Pierce Johnson, who pitched in every game of the previous round, replaced him on the mound.
With one out in the third inning, Tingler called on the symbol of the Padres’ desperation, Ryan Weathers. A 20-year-old left-hander, Weathers had never pitched in the major leagues. He was in ClassA last year. With the minor league season cancelled this year, he
spent this year pitching in intrasquad games at the Padres’ alternate site.
Weathers pitched 11/3 scoreless innings.
The Dodgers had their own problems.
Starter Walker Buehler had pitched only once over the last 19days of the regular season because of a blister on his pitching hand.
His start against the Milwaukee Brewers in the wild-card series lasted only four innings.
This start was equally short.
Buehler was betrayed by his control in the second inning, as he walked the bases loaded with one out. He escaped the jam by striking out Jurickson Profar and Trent Grisham.
The Dodgers also weren’t hitting.
They couldn’t score against Weathers, or anyone else, for that matter.
The run they scored in the fifth inning to tie the game at 1-1 was the product of two walks and a throwing error by Padres second baseman Jake Cronenworth on a grounder by Cody Bellinger.
Then came the sixth inning.
Mookie Betts followed a walk by Chris Taylor by delivering the Dodgers’ first hit of the game — a double off Richards to left field that advanced Taylor to third base.
The Dodgers blew open the game against Richards’ replacement, left-hander Matt Strahm. A sacrifice fly by Corey Seager drove in Taylor. Justin Turner singled to score Betts. An infield hit by Bellinger pushed home Turner.
Max Muncy capped the four-run surge when he scored on a wild pitch by Craig Stammen.
The Dodgers didn’t score again, but it didn’t matter.
The Padres ended up using eight relievers.
The game was over. The series almost certainly was too.
Hernández reported from Los Angeles.