Like many of his teammates, Freddie Freeman already seemed fed up with the topic.
When asked Friday night about the significance of the Dodgers’ early success against the star-studded San Diego Padres — particularly in the wake of the Padres’ all-in offseason acquisitions and the Dodgers’ playoff elimination last October — the first followed Baseman of an organization: big lead.
He downplayed any discussion of the rivalry. He avoided any clichés and explanations on the bulletin board. Instead, he continued to focus on his own team, which has secured an early spot at the top of the National League West in a two-week winning streak.
“I don’t know,” Freeman said of the Padres. “I mean, I’m glad they’re trying. It does not bother me. You want to win. That’s fine. But we have a really good team here too. We’ve played good baseball for the past few weeks. We don’t try to outplay the opponent. We play our game.”
It’s the same level-headed mindset that the Dodgers displayed during their unprecedented run of success in the NL West over the past decade.
And of late it has been accompanied by a kind of throwback dominance on the field, with the team winning their fifth consecutive series (and second in that epoch against the Padres) with a win 4:2 defeat of their division rivals on Saturday night at Dodger Stadium.
“There are many keys to success,” said manager Dave Roberts.
“I think one of those is putting more emphasis on your ball club and not getting distracted by other variables, other factors, other teams. I think for me it was a hallmark of all our ball clubs. And this year is no different.”
In fact, Saturday’s win — the Dodgers’ 12th in their last 14 games and fourth straight against a Padres team they also faced last weekend — was based on a familiar recipe.
The Dodgers (25-15) got off to a strong start Julio Urías gave up just two runs in seven impressive innings to improve to 5-3.
They scored a timely hit and took advantage of JD Martinez’s triple home run in the first inning to give them a lead they weren’t about to give up.
And they received key contributions from an improving bullpen, with Evan Phillips throwing a clean eighth inning ahead of Brusdar Graterol and Caleb Ferguson combined for the last three outs in the ninth.
“When you point to an area of the game during that stretch [we’ve been good at]”It was the pitching,” Roberts said. “I think the bullpen really comes into its own.”
The same is quickly true of the Dodgers as a whole.
With their lineup back in full force, they looked more like the consistent offensive powerhouse they had hoped for and kept the pressure on Padres starter Joe Musgrove on Saturday with eight hits and an important fourth run on an RBI Single by Will Smith in the third upright.
“It’s strong,” said Martinez, who returned full offensive gear to the Dodgers for the first time in more than a month after returning from a back injury this weekend.
“You have six, seven guys in that lineup that can carry the team that night,” Martinez added. “It’s a very dangerous lineup.”
The rotation is also beginning to have an impact, led by a recent resurgence from Urías, who continued during his four strikeout and three-goal streak on Saturday.
After ending April with a 4.41 earned run average, the left-hander returned to his form in May in three starts and gave up just five runs in more than 19 innings.
On Saturday, he put on one of his best performances of the season, rebounding from the solo homers of Juan Soto in the first and Ha-Seong Kim in the second with five of his most dominant innings.
At one point, he eliminated 11 of 12 batsmen, with the lone exception being Mookie Betts’ first shortstop error of the season.
Then, after a Max Muncy error and an infield single caused a sixth-round jam, Urías escaped by pinning a comebacker near the mound and quickly initiating a double play late in the inning.
“I don’t even know how I made that piece,” Urías said, laughing in Spanish. “But it worked.”
So does the Dodgers’ late-game bullpen plan.
Phillips won the eighth by mastering two left-handed pinch hitters before knocking out Fernando Tatis Jr. for the third.
In the ninth round, Graterol dealt with Manny Machado and Soto before delivering two soft-hit singles. Then Ferguson was called upon to end the game by knocking out Jake Cronenworth for his first save in five years.
“We think any of these guys can finish a game,” Roberts said.
“Being able to use them at any point that we feel is best for the ball club is of great value.”
Equally valuable is the six-game gap the Dodgers have put between them and them on the league table the Padres (19-21) — a club that may not draw much attention from the Dodgers but will nonetheless linger in their rearview mirror.
“We just have to keep playing good baseball,” Roberts said, looking forward to an opportunity for a series win on Sunday. “We have done the work to put ourselves in a good position now.
“And we have a chance tomorrow to really get into the carotid artery.
“That is our intention.”