SAN DIEGO — In light of recent events, the question has become more urgent: Can the Padres overtake the blue colossus to the north?
The Dodgers recently won the National League West for the eighth consecutive year, swept the upstart Pads out of the playoffs and won the World Series. Most of their best players will return. Their farm system was No. 5 in Baseball America's latest rankings.
Oddsmaker BetOnline.ag has the Padres at 8-1 to win the 2021 World Series, behind only the Dodgers (9-2) and Yankees (13-2). The task brings to mind an infamous line from "The Godfather II," when Rocco Lampone, a caporegime to Michael Corleone, contemplates a daunting hit. "Difficult," he says, "not impossible."
Start with the pitching. Without Mike Clevinger becoming the ace the Padres had in mind when they in essence traded six players for him in July, the odds will grow steeper. Clevinger started the Divisional Series opener against the Dodgers, only to last one inning.
"It feels like bones are hitting in the back of my elbow," said Clevinger, who turns 30 in December.
A healthy Clevinger would be good for 25-30 starts and 150-plus innings. He would provide cushion and example for several young starting pitchers.
Against the Dodgers, Clevinger could represent the best chance to win a higher-stakes game. He has the pitch diversity, enhanced by a hot fastball, to weather repeated exposure to baseball's most studious lineup.
"The more times we get to look at (a pitcher) the more we're able to put a plan together," Dodgers hitting coach Robert Van Scoyoc, who coached at tiny San Diego Christian College in Santee, told Sports Illustrated this month. "It's also picking up on any tendencies and patterns. Every puzzle is a little different. We put the puzzle together."
Offensively, Padres leaders have their own Rubik's Cube to solve.
And it's a wonderful challenge to have.