As the National League West standings currently stand, the Dodgers would have to beat the San Diego Padres in the wild card game to keep their hopes of repeating as World Series champions alive.
That would be the consolation prize for not winning the division for the ninth consecutive season. It’s an uneasy possibility. One mistake, one bad night, one dominant start on the other side and it’s all over. The good news is there are 87 games left on the Dodgers’ regular-season schedule to avoid that scenario. The bad news is the Padres have had their way with them and aren’t going away.
The Padres competed a three-game sweep of the Dodgers with a 5-3 win at a sold-out Petco Park on Wednesday. The Dodgers (44-30) have dropped seven of eight games to the Padres (45-32) after winning the season’s first two meetings. The Padres moved within a half-game of the second-place Dodgers with the first-place San Francisco Giants are four games ahead of them. The clubs don’t meet again until late August.
“They absolutely kicked our ass from an intensity standpoint,” Dodgers starter Trevor Bauer said. “They came to play, we didn’t. That’s what happens in baseball. You try to attack the other team and win and when you don’t have that mindset, you get rolled. And we got rolled.”
The Dodgers arrived in San Diego on a three-game winning streak. Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger were about to come off the injured list. Things were looking up. But they were outclassed in every department over the three nights. On Wednesday, defense was the difference.
With the score tied at 3-3, Padres second baseman Jake Cronenworth led off the bottom of the eighth inning with a line drive to right field. Matt Beaty, who started the game in left field, was stationed there. It was his 13th career appearance in right field. The inexperience showed. The line drive froze him before it bounced off his glove, allowing Cronenworth to reach second with a double.
Manny Machado then hit a dribbler to third baseman Justin Turner, who looked Cronenworth back and double pumped before throwing to first base. The delay was long enough for Machado to beat it out for an infield single. Eric Hosmer then dropped his first sacrifice bunt since 2015, leaving first base open. The Dodgers opted to intentionally walk Wil Myers to load the bases for Trent Grisham. Left-hander Victor González walked him on a 3-2 fastball just inside to push home the go-ahead run.
Victor Caratini, who homered off Bauer in the seventh inning, followed with a sacrifice fly to give the Padres a two-run lead. The margin stuck.
Bauer encountered turbulence early. After retiring the first two hitters he faced, Cronenworth lashed a fastball for his third home run of the series. Eight pitches later, Machado clobbered a ball deep over the left-field wall to make it back-to-back homers.
All eight pitches to Machado were sliders. It wasn’t by accident. That extended Bauer’s streak of 21 straight sliders to Machado over four matchups going back to April 24.
It was Bauer’s latest attempt to figure out a way to stop Machado. It worked in their three previous meetings; Machado struck out twice and grounded out. Then Machado hit one 424 feet to improve to 13 for 23 with five home runs in his career against Bauer.
Bauer settled in, holding the Padres scoreless until Caratini homered to lead off the seventh. Bauer then walked Jurickson Profar to end his night. He posted 10 strikeouts to four walks, one intentional, across six innings. Three of the five hits he gave up were solo home runs. Of the 63 hits Bauer has surrendered this season, 17 are home runs.
“Every little mistake seems to leave the yard for me,” Bauer said.
The Dodgers went hitless against Joe Musgrove until Muncy cracked the first of his two doubles — and his first hit since coming off the injured list Tuesday — to lead off the fourth inning. He scored on Will Smith’s line-drive single to center field.
Beaty then hit a ground ball to Hosmer at third base. Hosmer threw to shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. at second base to start an inning-ending double play, but Tatis’ throw back to first bounced away, allowing Bellinger to score from second base.
Turner delivered an RBI single in the eighth inning to tie the score. But the deadlock didn’t last long, and the Padres got the best of the Dodgers again.
“When you don’t play good baseball against a good team, you get beat,” Bauer said. “And that’s what happened.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.