LOS ANGELES — These six games in 10 days against the San Diego Padres carried no added weight, they said repeatedly. There was no statement to be made with home-and-home series in May.
But they made one anyway.
The Dodgers completed a three-game sweep of this weekend’s series with the Padres, beating them 4-0 Sunday afternoon behind a combined three-hitter by Tony Gonsolin and the bullpen.
The win was the Dodgers’ fifth in the six-game block against the Padres, the centerpiece of a May blossoming that has seen the Dodgers’ win 13 of their past 15 games and six of their past seven series.
“I think it’s probably more encouraging for you guys,” Mookie Betts said when asked to assess this surge. “For us, we’ve known what we’re capable of. We know what we can do. We’re just doing it. I think from the outside, there was definitely some wondering of what’s going on. But it’s a long season. You’re not gonna pitch, play defense and hit all 162 games.”
The Padres won the first of these head-to-head meetings, beating Clayton Kershaw on Cinco de Mayo and celebrating with questionable hubris — a crying Kershaw meme displayed on the scoreboard at Petco Park after the game that lit the fires of social media. The Dodgers won the next five matchups, outscoring the Padres 19-7.
“I think we’re just playing good baseball. It’s just two good series wins. I don’t think it means anything else,” Chris Taylor said then was reminded about the Kershaw meme.
“What did Julio (Urias) say? I think he nailed it. Whoever laughs last, laughs best.”
The Padres are certainly making it difficult to stay sassy, San Diego.
In fact, an agitated Bob Melvin criticized his team after a loss in Minnesota Thursday, calling the Padres out for “underperforming” this season. The Padres responded by getting swept in L.A. and falling three games under .500 with their seventh loss in their past eight games.
It’s a far cry from the offseason expectations that even had the Dodgers being asked in the spring about their new role as underdogs in the National League West.
“I don’t think we ever felt we were the underdogs,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I think that certain people in our clubhouse, probably individually, took it a different way. That’s okay. Whatever fuels them. The most important thing is playing baseball games and seeing who the best team is at the end of the year. I’ve always liked our club.”
The Padres’ offense has been particularly “frustrating” for their manager. That didn’t change this weekend as they managed just 15 hits in the three games. The four stars that fueled all the offseason hype — Juan Soto, Manny Machado, Xander Bogaerts and Fernando Tatis Jr. — were a combined 9 for 45 (.200) this weekend. Machado was hitless in 11 at-bats.
“They’re star-studded from top to bottom,” Gonsolin said diplomatically when it was pointed out how the Padres have underachieved. “They’re a really good lineup and we managed to hold them down to just a few runs on the weekend.”
Gonsolin celebrated his 29th birthday Sunday with five scoreless innings. The right-hander allowed just two hits and a walk while striking out six. After averaging 92 mph in his first three starts, Gonsolin bumped that up to 93.6 mph Sunday.
“The thing that sticks out to me about Tony is the fastball velocity. Lot of 95s today,” Roberts said. “He just kind of really executed and commanded with conviction.
“I was really impressed with the way he threw the baseball.”
Gonsolin’s season started late due to a spring ankle injury. But he has started to regain his All-Star form from a year ago with 11 scoreless innings over his past two starts. Gonsolin has given up just five hits while striking out 12 in that time.
“I think with any All-Star player, there’s a new bar,” Roberts said. “As he was getting healthy and finding his way back, I think that commitment to realize what the bar was that he set for himself. He’s pitching like an All-Star.”
The Dodgers’ bullpen followed with four scoreless innings. After the five-run opener last weekend in San Diego, the Padres scored no more than two in any of the games against the Dodgers.
Betts matched that with a two-run home run in the third inning Sunday. It was Betts’ third home run in the six games against the Padres and sixth in his past 15 games overall after hitting three in his first 24.
“Just hitting strikes,” Betts said. “I was chasing a lot, not really giving myself the best chances. So I’ve just been focusing on swinging at good pitches.
“I’m just getting good swings off on good pitches. I think before, I was swinging at bad pitches. That makes everything worse.”
The Dodgers had just four hits of their own Sunday. But Betts’ homer was one and a two-run double from Miguel Vargas was another.
“I think we’re playing good baseball, I know that,” Roberts said. “We know we have a good ballclub. And like I said before, it’s just good to play good baseball against a team like that.”