The closest thing to a playoff atmosphere in an empty stadium in September unfolded at Petco Park on Monday night. As a layer of haze hovered over the vacant ballpark, the two best teams in the National League, separated by 2 1/2 games in the standings, began a marquee three-game series with a pitcher’s duel, a heated exchange of words, and a late-game collapse.
In the end, the Dodgers, even after a dominant start from their ace, were outclassed in a 7-2 loss to the sizzling San Diego Padres.
The difference was the seventh inning. The Dodgers (33-15) fell apart and the Padres capitalized on their miscues to break open a tie game with five runs. With the win, the Padres cut the Dodgers’ lead in the National League West and for the No. 1 seed in the NL to 1 1/2 games. They have won 21 of 26 games and eight straight. The Dodgers have dropped five of their last eight.
The Dodgers’ trouble in the seventh inning started when Wil Myers lined a leadoff single against Clayton Kershaw. Two batters later, Kershaw, who had been cruising, allowed a single to Jurickson Profar to put two runners on base with one out. The sequence prompted manager Dave Roberts to pull Kershaw — not before a conversation on the mound — and insert Pedro Báez.
Kershaw threw 99 pitches, 73 for strikes. He compiled zero walks, nine strikeouts, and 21 swing-and-misses. Eighteen of the whiffs were on sliders. His fastball averaged a promising 92 mph. But Roberts chose Báez to escape the jam.
Jorge Oña greeted Báez with a flare double down the left-field line to give San Diego the lead. Next, Greg Garcia hit a ground ball to Max Muncy at first base. Across the diamond, Profar sprinted home and stopped halfway when he saw Muncy look his way. When Muncy walked towards first base, Profar dashed home. Muncy, a few feet from a sure out at first base, fired home. Profar slid in headfirst safely.
Trent Grisham followed with another ground ball to Muncy, who threw to second base to start an inning-ending double play. Instead, the ball bounced off shortstop Chris Taylor’s glove and into left field, allowing Oña to score. The Padres (32-17) tacked on two more runs against Blake Treinen and didn’t look back.
Winning the division might not have much — if any — impact on the two teams’ playoff prospects. Barring a collossal collapse, whichever club finishes second in the division would earn the No. 4 seed in the National League – the best placement available for a team that doesn’t win one of the NL’s three divisions – and still play at home in the first round if Major League Baseball follows through with its postseason plan.
As a result, both teams will likely face a team that finished the regular season with a record around .500 in the first round; the difference between the fifth-place Miami Marlins and the eighth-place San Francisco Giants entering Monday was 1 1/2 games. And whether one club is a better matchup or not matters less than ever in a three-game series.
Regardless of where they finish, the teams would meet in the second round, likely at a neutral site in Texas, if they advance that far.
But winning the division stills means something. It’s a goal every team strives to meet. For the Dodgers, it means exerting their dominance another year. For San Diego, it means finally beating the bully on the block. The Padres, who have already clinched their first winning record since 2010, haven’t won the division since 2006. That was two uniform redesigns ago.
“It’s a big series,” Roberts said before the game.
It seemed bigger for the Padres than for the Dodgers on Monday. The difference in intensity was apparent in the sixth inning when Grisham delivered the breakthrough against Kershaw – a leadoff solo home run to right field.
Grisham admired his work. He stared into the Padres dugout before taking a step, flipped his bat, and looked back at the mound as he jogged to first base. At the end of his trot, the Dodgers dugout expressed its displeasure with his bravado. Grisham barked back and jumped on home plate with two feet.
Justin Turner completed his usual pregame routine before Monday’s game, including taking batting practice on the field, and is expected to come off the injured list Tuesday. Roberts said Turner would return as the team’s designated hitter if he’s activated. Turner hasn’t played since straining his left hamstring Aug. 28. …Roberts reiterated that he’s confident Dustin May will start in Wednesday’s series finale. May’s season briefly appeared in jeopardy when he took a comebacker off his left foot last Thursday, but tests revealed no structural damage.
1. Dinelson Lamet isn’t considered the Padres’ ace — that title belongs to Mike Clevinger — but he’s pitched like one this season. He continued his breakout campaign Monday, holding the Dodgers to one run on three hits with 11 strikeouts.
2. Joc Pederson batted third Monday and went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts to continue his deep slump. The outfielder is bating .178 with a .656 OPS this season.
3. Cody Bellinger was caught stealing to end the second inning when he seemingly forgot the number of outs. Believing Edwin Ríos had struck out to end the inning, Bellinger slowed down as he approached second base and was tagged out standing up.
Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma go 1-2-3
There was no movement at the top in the Week 3 AP Top 25.
Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma, Georgia and Florida stayed as the top-five teams from a week ago. But that status quo is likely to change in a week.
With the Big Ten’s announcement that it’s starting the football season on Oct. 24, teams from the conference will be eligible for the AP poll once again. After the conference postponed its season in August the poll decided that Big Ten teams — along with Pac-12, MAC and MWC teams — weren’t eligible for the top 25 after the preseason poll.
Ohio State was the No. 2 team in the preseason poll and will likely be at or near that position in a week. Penn State will also probably be at the bottom of the top 10.
The most significant drop in this week’s AP poll came courtesy of Oklahoma State. The Cowboys struggled to beat Tulsa at home on Saturday and fell from No. 11 to No. 15. Miami, meanwhile, moved up five spots to No. 12 after a convincing win at Louisville. The Cardinals are now at No. 24.
Marshall is also in this week’s poll. The Thundering Herd beat previously-No. 23 App State on Saturday.
Full Top 25
7. Notre Dame
10. Texas A&M
11. North Carolina
15. Oklahoma State
20. Virginia Tech
– – – – – – –
Nick Bromberg is a writer for Sports Grind Entertainment.
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Giants’ Saquon Barkley exits Bears game with leg injury
New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley left a Week 2 game against the Chicago Bears after suffering separate injuries on back-to-back plays.
On the final play of the first quarter, Barkley went down awkwardly on his left wrist and went to the sidelines for one play. He was briefly spelled by veteran Dion Lewis before returning and suffering another injury on his very next touch.
Barkley crumbled into a heap on the turf and ripped his helmet off as trainers rushed to his side.
The superstar back was seen grabbing his right knee and couldn’t leave the field under his own power, instead being helped off by trainers while avoiding putting any weight on his leg.
Barkley was subsequently carted from the sideline into the locker room for X-rays and further evaluation.
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Sadio Mane, Liverpool top 10-man Chelsea (video)
For close to 45 minutes on Sunday, Chelsea stood toe-to-toe with English champions Liverpool, hardly giving the Reds an inch.
Then Andreas Christensen made a bad mistake in first-half stoppage time, when he hauled down Sadio Mané and, following an intervention by the video assistant referee, was shown a red card and expelled from Liverpool’s ultimate 2-0 victory:
Liverpool punished Christensen’s gaffe with Mané scoring both goals against the 10-man Blues in the second half at Stamford Bridge.
Here are three quick thoughts on the highest-profile match of the Premier League season so far.
Thiago Alcantara debuts, performs as advertised for Liverpool
It was no surprise that the 29-year-old Thiago began on the bench for Jurgen Klopp’s side after arriving from reigning Champions League winners Bayern Munich last week. After Christensen was sent off, though, Klopp saw the perfect opportunity to integrate the Spanish maestro and subbed him on from the start of the second half.
And as he did over seven seasons with Bayern, the classy midfielder immediately took control of the pace of the match by finding pockets of space and expertly moving the ball around the shorthanded hosts. And while he wasn’t directly involved in setting up Mané’s opener, it was no surprise that the breakthrough — which came after a slick give-and-go between Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino —arrived within minutes of Thiago stepping onto the field.
The debut wasn’t perfect. With Liverpool cruising at 2-0, Thiago was whistled for fouling Blues striker Timo Werner inside his own penalty box, potentially handing the hosts a lifeline. But Reds goalkeeper Alisson Becker saved Jorginho’s effort from the spot to preserve the clean sheet.
Another blunder by Chelsea keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga
If Mané’s first goal was the result of a beautifully worked passing play, his second came off another error by under-fire Blues backstop Kepa. Instead of playing a safe lateral pass out of his own six-yard box, Kepa tried to go directly up the middle of the field.
Mané, anticipating the error, closed down the Spaniard at pace, and was able to extend a toe and take Kepa’s pass out of the air. At that point, he had all day to settle the ball and deposit it into Chelsea’s net and effectively put the outcome beyond Frank Lampard’s team:
Lampard, who benched Kepa for a spell last season, now has a big decision to make. The 25-year-old appears to have lost all the confidence that made him the most expensive keeper in history when he transferred from Atletico Madrid two years ago for a world record fee.
The sense is that Kepa will not be in the manager’s lineup when the Blues visit West Brom next weekend.
Liverpool keeps rolling en route to perfect 2-0 start
For all the talk about how Liverpool might find it difficult to repeat as champs this season, there hasn’t been much evidence off that so far in 2020-21. Sure, promoted Leeds United scored three against the Reds last weekend, and only a late penalty gave Liverpool all three points.
But as much as the match-changing red card helped on Sunday against an opponent that until that moment looked very much up for the fight, Chelsea did little during that first 45 minutes at even strength that suggested that the hosts were ever going to be able to take more than a point out of this one.
Meantime, Mané, Firmino and Salah look as devastating a front three as they did last season, when they were virtually unstoppable. Now Klopp added Alcantara to the mix, and his team sits atop the table with a perfect record following what many believed would be one of its most difficult tests of the new campaign. Liverpool passed it with flying colors.
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