The Dodgers clinched an 8th consecutive playoff appearance with a 7-5 win over the Padres on Thursday. Obviously, this is important, but it was essentially already a forgone conclusion, as the Dodgers have the best record in baseball at 35-15 and the playoffs are expanded this year.
What was more important was, maybe just for pride's sake, because, again, the playoffs are expanded and seeding is meaningless, solidifying their division lead over the upstart (and really good) San Diego Padres. After the Dodgers threw away what was perhaps Clayton Kershaw's best start since Game 1 of the 2017 World Series (9K, 0 BB, TWENTY swings and misses) with bad defense and failing to hit Padres ace Dinelson Lamet, they bounced back with two pretty convincing wins against the Padres, widening their lead in the National League West to 3.5 games with 10 games left in the regular season.
After Kershaw's spectacular performance was wasted on Monday, the Dodgers came charging back with a very clean 3-1 win, something reassuring considering most Dodger wins over the past two weeks have been scrappy and closer than they needed to be. As Justin Turner went 3-3 in his return from the IL (no surprise the Dodgers suddenly played better with him back), Edwin Rios hit a towering home run to break out of a slump, Tony Gonsolin quietly dominated the Padres, allowing one run through seven innings on 90 pitches, pretty much solidifying his spot as the third starter on the team in my opinion. Gonsolin looked as if he could've easily pitched another two innings, as he was still pumping 97 in the strike zone in the 7th and being remarkably efficient, but there was no need to push him.
Kenley Jansen, after a disastrous outing on Saturday and a great on on Sunday, got MVP candidate Fernando Tatis to groundout quickly but gave up a base hit to Manny Machado, a bloop single to Mitch Moreland (not really Jansen's fault there, and walked Austin Nola. As Jansen prepared to pitch the powerful Wil Myers with the bases loaded, one out, and a two run lead, he looked as if he simply couldn't throw a strike. However, Jansen found something in himself and struck Myers out on three pitches with a disgusting slider, a pitch Jansen has incorporated much more after his blown save on Saturday. Kenley then struck out Rookie of the Year candidate Jake Cronenworth on a great 3-2 cutter up in the zone, the perfect kind of competitive chase pitch out of the strike zone. It wasn't his best outing, obviously, but I was very impressed with the slider usage and how he pulled himself together at the end. This is certainly something he can build confidence from.
Dustin May was supposed to start Thursday's game, but he pitched 5.1 innings out of the bullpen instead, a sign that he won't be starting in the Wild Card round. The Dodgers played a great game, however, with AJ Pollock and Chris Taylor homering (Taylor's third in his past 5 games), and Bellinger and Muncy getting some much needed RBIs (I'm expecting a big series from both this weekend in Colorado). Both are starting to look better at the plate and hopefully they can get right for October.
Perhaps the one real negative from the series is that Caleb Ferguson is going to need to have Tommy John Surgery again after tearing his UCL on Tuesday night. Ferguson was having a great season out of the bullpen, so this is really disappoint for both him and the Dodgers. I'm really excited to see what he'll do when he returns (probably in 2022). AJ Pollock, who's having a fantastic season, left Thursday's game with a mild hamstring cramp and will be available off the bench on Thursday, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. Walker Buehler has been throwing simulated games and will make one regular season start before the playoffs.
Photo Credit: Dodgers Twitter