The Padres get busy this weekend, playing a team they need to conquer to win the National League West for the first time since 2006.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are again on the Friars’ menu?
No, we can’t be that lucky. It’s the visiting, and surprising, San Francisco Giants that are on-deck for San Diego.
But in looking ahead it’s hard not to view the past.
Those four Padres-Dodgers games at Dodger Stadium last weekend were each a work of art, worthy of a nail and a wire in the Louvre.
Of course, they came on the heels of the three contests between the combatants in Petco Park, where the Padres proved that they have the bark and bite to hang with the defending world champions.
All told, the Padres won four of the seven showdowns that felt like playoff baseball in the fall instead of spring dates in April.
“I think we certainly made a statement,” Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer told reporters. “The whole baseball world was locked into this series. I think they see we can compete with these guys.”
The nation discovered what the locals knew: The Padres are good and entertaining, with shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. leading the band.
Tatis made some noise all right, with five home runs in the recent four games against L.A. He was also going tit-for-tat with Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer in a compelling test of gamesmanship.
Bauer, who’s as big of a ham as he is an ace, seemingly caught Tatis eyeing Bauer’s target. Tatis took a peek, as they say, and in baseball that’s a no-no. When Bauer took to social media and YouTube to state his case, it came with a comebacker.
“If you need to know what pitch is coming that badly, just ask daddy nicely next time,” Bauer said in his video of Tatis’ at-bat, in which he homered. “You know I’m not scared homie.”
Tatis delivered a shot that was hit as hard as his homers.
“Take it easy son,” his message in Spanish said.
That it came with Tatis holding a small child with Bauer’s mug plastered on it was classic.
So is this matchup, which is gathering steam with every game. It’s fun again for the Padres to play the Dodgers and for nearly a decade those words were seldom heard.
“(It’s) the biggest rivalry in baseball,” Tatis said. “Everybody can feel it; everybody can see it. Just the games that we’re playing — it’s a blessing to be a part of it.”
Still, it’s just a slice of a wonderful and long season. While it’s keen to kick sand in the Dodgers’ faces, the Padres can’t produce face plants when not playing L.A.
That’s what makes the weekend series with the streaking Giants so important. They aren’t the Dodgers but a team that entered the week ahead of the Padres. Overlook S.F. at your own risk, as its reward for a recent rebuilding process is evident.
Following the Giants into town are the Pittsburgh Pirates. If the Pirates aren’t the worst squad in baseball, they’re near the top of a very short list.
A win over either club won’t have the juice of deflating the Dodgers. But in a 162-game season, if the Padres don’t beat the teams they’re supposed to, it doesn’t matter if they defeat the one they’re most focused on.
After the Padres rallied from a late 7-1 deficit to win, 8-7, in 11 innings on Sunday, it put them one game over .500 against the Dodgers.
But in games against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Texas Rangers, Milwaukee Brewers, Giants and Pirates, they were just one game over .500.
Against L.A., the Padres looked the part of a serious contender. Against others, that often hasn’t been the case.
The want-to when wrestling with the Dodgers is never a question.
“We’ve got to bring that every day,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said.
That starts with this homestead against the Giants and Pirates.