Evil Empire of the West
In 2002 Larry Lucchino, the visionary behind Petco Park during his tenure with the San Diego Padres, called the New York Yankees an “Evil Empire.” The National League West now has its very own Evil Empire, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Often called a juggernaut by the media, the Dodgers (80-33), find themselves on a pace to win 116 games. The record of wins per MLB season stands at 116 and was set in 1906 by the Chicago Cubs and matched by the Seattle Mariners in 2001. That Mariners team lost to, of course, the Yankees in the American League Championship Series.
Although anything can happen in the playoffs, the 2017 Dodgers look like an unstoppable force and the inevitable champions of all of baseball. The Padres have the dubious pleasure of playing this force 19 times.
In 2011, both teams stood at a crossroads thanks to ownership issues with Jeff Moorad in San Diego and Frank and Jamie McCourt in Los Angeles. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig dealt with the “historic franchise” in March of 2012 before turning his attention to San Diego in August.
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Since then the Dodgers’ fortunes have improved (four National League West titles), while the Padres haven’t reached .500. In 2014, Andrew Friedman left the Tampa Bay Rays to become the President of Baseball Operations for the Dodgers and hired Farhan Zaidi, an executive with the Oakland Athletics, as general manager.
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At first, Friedman seemed to forget he actually had money to spend with his new franchise. In actuality he was quietly assessing and building this team, by surrounding ace Clayton Kershaw with rookies like center fielder Joc Pederson and shortstop Corey Seager (who were already in the Dodgers farm system); making savvy trades for players like catcher Yasmani Grandal, and picking up third baseman Justin Turner from the scrap heap. Turner had been released by the Mets and is now batting .348/.441/.561 for the Dodgers.
Then in a trade with the Texas Rangers at the July deadline, L.A. added pitcher Yu Darvish. Jeff Todd of MLB Trade Rumors wrote that Darvish ”has been one of the twenty most valuable hurlers by measure of “WAR” since signing with the Rangers. And, the Dodgers managed to hold on to their top prospects. Before the trade, L.A. already had the best ERA in MLB at (3.08), as well as best BAA (.223)
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And let’s not forget the impact of rookie Cody Bellinger, who was called up in late April, and has been on an absolute tear. In 345 games he’s hit 33 home runs and knocked in 76 runs. Bellinger ranks third in all of baseball in home runs behind Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins and fellow rookie Aaron Judge of the Yankees.
The Dodgers have even managed to get Yasiel Puig (the very definition of five tool player with a 10 cent head) under control. Last year LA got his attention by sending him down to the minors for a lack of performance but also a bothersome clubhouse presence. On this team, Puig bats eighth with 13 doubles, 21 home runs, and 55 RBI.
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Beginning Friday, the Padres face the juggernaut 10 more times. When last the teams met, managers Andy Green and Dave Roberts had to be separated, with Roberts’ parting words and gestures challenging “you and me.” Both managers were ejected and will face one another for the first time since Roberts issued that threat.