By Selim Jones
Baseball fans in the Santa Cruz area come from three primary rooting backgrounds. They are Giants fans, Dodgers fans, or Padres fans.
At gunpoint I will admit my Giants were nowhere near as competitive as those other two teams this year. Dodgers fans found themselves as heavy world series favorites all year, winning a league leading 111 games. Padres fans faced a season of generally unmet high expectations. Their best player, Fernando Tatis, was suspended for PEDs. They made a historic splash at the trade deadline to acquire generational talent Juan Soto, and then immediately fell into a weeks-long funk.
With this context in mind, the Dodgers and Padres meeting in the NLDS seems like an almost forgone conclusion. The Dodgers would advance to yet another National League Championships. The Padres fans of the area would continue as the least decorated among their NL West rivals. And I would hate my Giants fan life.
And then, absolutely none of that happened.
The Padres looked the superior team throughout, winning the best-of-5 game series in 4. They were more consistent, had a deeper lineup, and got better performances from their starters.
And so! Comrades! I call you to arms! We must all take this grand opportunity to laugh at Dodgers fans mercilessly. Will doing that backfire in our faces when they win the next two world series? Most likely. Still, life must be lived in the moment. And so it is from the graciousness of my heart that I provide the following ammo to use in this holy fight.
The Dodgers were not solely outplayed in this historic upset. Their loss can be partially attributed to a fundamental failure of team strategy. The Dodgers are a heavily analytic team, which has brought them great success. This season their primary weakness has been an injury-depleted bullpen. To compensate for this, the Dodgers have come to rely even more on data. Relievers are used when the movement of their pitches works well against the arc of opposing hitters’ swings. Many of these relievers have one primary pitch that they depend on in these matchup situations.
In the decisive game 4, the Padres burned this tactic. Jake Cronenworth and Juan Soto got clutch hits against unheralded Dodgers relievers who had been entrusted because of their matchup strength rather than their broad ability. Perhaps most damning is that the Dodgers utilize this strategy despite tending to remove their starters early in games because of analytics that suggest weaker performance when facing hitters for the third time. Clayton Kershaw, Tom Gonsolin, and Tyler Anderson were all removed before the 6th inning.
The Padres will face fellow upstarts The Phillies in the NLCS. The winner will face the victor of the Astros Vs. Yankees for this year’s MLB title.