The Los Angeles Dodgers are in defense of a long-awaited title. Early returns suggest they are not resting on laurels and have entered as hungry as they were when title-starved. No one in Major League Baseball has played better than its reigning king. No one has even shown signs of closing the gap between hunter and hunted.
Dave Roberts' team enters this weekend's blockbuster series with the San Diego Padres at 11-2. With a mighty offense that features half of the National League's top eight in on-base percentage. With a batting average a stunning 16 points higher than anyone else in the Senior Circuit and a team OPS of .876. They enter with Max Muncy, Corey Seager, and Justin Turner hitting the cover off the ball and unheralded rookie Zach McKinstry, who never homered while at Central Michigan, homering with regularity at the big-league level.
Los Angeles sports what could be the best pitching staff in the league. Clayton Kershaw, Trevor Bauer, Walker Buehler, and Dustin May all have sub-3.00 ERAs. The bullpen has been reliable, squandering just one lead and benefitting from Corey Knebel's constant goose eggs.
In short, they've picked up exactly where they were last October. It's odd to say it wasn't an active or headline-grabbing offseason where there was a World Series parade and festivities, but the Dodgers' story was largely overshadowed by what was going on in San Diego. The crown and the division run through Chavez Ravine and this three-game test should be a great measuring stick and scene-setter for what promises to be a fierce 19 matchups this year.
It's a bit silly to put too much importance on a mid-April weekend but it does feel incumbent on the Padres to make some sort of statement here. The Dodgers going in there and winning two of three or even executing a sweep would be a pretty stern reminder about who is wearing the title belt. It'd be a testament to the most gorgeously constructed franchise in baseball which has risen to be a towering presence and able to see over all the other tall buildings. Finally.
They sure seem to be enjoying the view. And appear willing to fight like hell to keep anyone else from rising to the same level.