The Dodgers defeated the Milwaukee Brewers Thursday to advance to the National League Division Series (NLDS). They will be taking on the San Diego Padres beginning Tuesday.
According to Fangraphs.com, the Dodgers enter the NLDS with a 61.4% chance of beating the Padres to advance to the National League Championship Series (NLCS). They now have a 27.3% chance of winning the World Series, the highest mark among the remaining playoff teams.
Ahead of the NLDS, here’s a look at some key factors.
While clutch hitting does not appear to be a repeatable skill, its importance in postseason baseball cannot be overstated. A timely hit with the game on the line can mean the difference between victory and defeat.
In 2020, the Dodgers and Padres both exhibited enormous offensive potential. The Dodgers and Padres ranked first and second, respectively, among all MLB teams in average exit velocity, barrels per plate appearance and expected weighted on-base average, which attempts to capture how much value a hitter should have provided to his team based on exit velocity and launch angle.
The Dodgers and Padres also exhibited discipline in their at-bats to put themselves in situations to succeed. The Dodgers posted the lowest swing percentage outside the zone and the fifth-lowest swinging strike percentage, while the Padres ranked third in both categories.
Both teams also exhibited clutch hitting but in somewhat different ways during the regular season.
In high-leverage situations, meaning those that possess the highest impact on the game’s result, the Padres offense posted a weighted runs created plus (wRC+) mark of 165. This indicates that their offense as a whole was 65% better in important situations than the MLB average. This mark was the highest in baseball and was 30 points higher than the Dodgers, who posted the second-highest mark in such situations.
However, in medium-leverage situations, which are situations that are still important to the game’s outcome but not critical, the Dodgers led the MLB with a wRC+ of 125, while the Padres ranked 15th with a wRC+ of 106. This shows that while the Padres excelled in 2020 with the game on the line, the Dodgers were more consistent across all moments that could influence the outcome. Further explanation of leverage index can be found here.
Both offenses also excelled in key run-scoring situations. With runners on base, the Dodgers ranked first in the MLB with a wRC+ of 143, while the Padres ranked sixth with a wRC+ of 115.
The Dodgers and Padres were first and second in wRC+ for situations with two outs in the inning. However, with runners in scoring position, the Padres ranked first in the MLB with a wRC+ of 151, while the Dodgers ranked second with a mark of 143.
Interestingly, there was a notable difference in offensive performance with the bases loaded.
Though these metrics are heavily influenced by a small sample size, the Padres' wRC+ of 222 with the bases loaded was far above the Dodgers wRC+ of 59. Put another way, with the bases loaded, the Padres offense was 122% better than the MLB average across all situations, while the Dodgers offense was 41% worse than league average.
The Padres' pitching staff has been hindered recently by injuries to starting pitchers Dinelson Lamet and Mike Clevinger.
Lamet, who has been dealing with bicep discomfort and was unable to pitch in the Wild Card Series, emerged in 2020 as a legitimate Cy Young Award contender. In 2020 he ranked fourth among qualified starters in strikeout percentage (K%) and fielding independent pitching (FIP), which attempts to measure a pitcher’s performance separate from the team’s defense.
Clevinger, who was acquired from the Cleveland Indians at the whirlwind trade deadline, has been sidelined by an elbow strain. Though he regressed slightly in 2020, Clevinger has the potential to be a true ace when healthy.
Both pitchers may be available for the NLDS. Regardless, the Padres will look for starting pitcher Chris Paddack to rebound from a poor start in Game 1 of the Wild Card Series. Paddack struggled in 2020 with a 4.73 ERA and a 5.02 FIP, both of which were significantly higher than his 2019 totals of 3.33 and 3.95, respectively.
The Dodgers will look to starters Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw to continue the success they had in the Wild Card Series. Some combination of pitchers Tony Gonsolin, Julio Urias and Dustin May will likely play a role in Game 3 and beyond if necessary.
A key factor worth watching will be the Padres' changeup and slider usage against the Dodgers. In 2020, the Dodgers' hitters struggled against changeups and sliders, producing below-average results on both pitch types. They were 3.6 runs below average against changups and 8.3 runs below average against sliders. These run values come from the accumulation of changes in run expectancy based on different counts that the hitter faces. Further explanation of pitch type linear weights can be found here.
Unfortunately for the Dodgers, the Padres' pitchers possess some of the most effective changeups and sliders in baseball. In fact, starting pitchers Zack Davies and Chris Paddack ranked first and second, respectively, in changeup value among all starters. As a pitching staff, the Padres ranked second in the MLB in changeup value with 18.3 runs above average.
Similarly, starting pitcher Dinelson Lamet ranked first among all pitchers in slider value, posting a mark of 19.7 runs above average. Though it remains to be seen if he will be ready to pitch, his slider could pose problems for the Dodgers' lineup. As a pitching staff, the Padres ranked second in the MLB in slider value with 24.2 runs above average.
Every moment is magnified in the postseason. Though no fans will be in attendance, the electricity of October baseball remains a crucial factor in determining who will win each series.
At a premium position on an exciting team that hadn’t been to the postseason since 2006, Tatis plays with panache and shows up in key situations. Though he has received some backlash for his style of play, Tatis has continued to be one of the very best players in baseball. He shined in the Wild Card Series with a 314 wRC+ and played a pivotal role in helping the Padres advance.
Though the Dodgers lack the Padres' dynamic flair, they exhibit a powerful and relaxed energy.
Star right fielder Mookie Betts is a spark plug atop the Dodgers' lineup, bringing charisma and joy to all he does on the field. Catcher Will Smith walks up to bat to the tune of “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” Justin Turner’s beard by itself could provide the energy to power L.A. for at least the next 100 years.
Needless to say, the NLDS should provide an exciting matchup between the Dodgers and the Padres. Game 1 is set for Tuesday on FS1 and MLB Network.