Yes, ace Mike "Sunshine" Clevinger will be taking the mound in Game 1 after not pitching since September 23 due to an elbow injury. His return gives an enormous boost to a beleaguered Padres pitching staff.
When Clevinger was acquired from the Cleveland Indians at the trade deadline, this was the exact scenario the Padres imagined. He was brought in to lead their staff as its ace and his acquisition was aimed squarely at matching up with the Dodgers. While fellow starter -- and NL Cy Young contender -- Dinelson Lamet won't be available for this series, Clevinger's addition changes the game for San Diego.
After arriving at the deadline, Clevinger was largely brilliant for the Padres. he went 2-1 with a 2.84 ERA, a 0.89 WHIP and 19 strikeouts against three walks in 19.0 innings. He also got better every time out as he built a rapport with new Padres catcher Austin Nola. In his final full start, Clevinger threw a seven inning complete game, giving up just two runs and striking out seven. It was his best appearance of the season. In the following start, he left after one inning with right biceps tightness that was later revealed to be an elbow impingement.
The Padres didn't have Clevinger or Lamet in the Wild Card round against the St. Louis Cardinals. That forced them to open the series with the struggling Chris Paddack on the mound. He was torched for six runs in 2.1 innings and took the loss in Game 1. The steady Zach Davies was anything but in Game 2 as he gave up a season-high four runs in two innings before the Padres came back to take an 11-9 victory. In Game 3, San Diego was forced to use nine pitchers in a bullpen day but managed to shut out the Cards.
Against the Dodgers and potentially facing five games in five days, the Padres needed more than the two starting pitchers who were available in the opening round. It could have gotten ugly very quickly if they needed to deploy multiple bullpen games early. Theoretically, Clevinger should alter the course of the series.
The real issue now is how long Clevinger can go and if he'll be effective after two weeks on the shelf. He's thrown consistently since being sidelined, but hasn't faced real game action yet. He could be rusty and he may not be able to chew innings.
No one knows what will happen when Clevinger takes the mound Tuesday night, but the Padres have to be a hell of a lot more confident in their matchup with the Dodgers than they were 24 hours ago.