Hand up: It felt pretty silly to have called the Dodgers and Padres "not a rivalry" as recently as Sept. 2022 after San Diego plowed through one of the best regular-season teams in Dodgers history last fall in the NLDS.
That said, the Padres set themselves up this offseason to have the rest of the baseball world focus on them as much as they focus on whatever the Dodgers are doing. Juan Soto was about to enter his first full season in San Diego. Manny Machado was here, even longer-term. Fernando Tatis Jr. was readying for a return from suspension. Xander Bogaerts was locked down.
And yet ... much like the President's Trophy in the NHL, the offseason championship remains a fickle predictor of success when the games begin to count.
In the wake of last week's Crying Kershaw Meme Heard 'Round California, the Dodgers and Padres both had an ample opportunity to make noise against one another before the Balanced Schedule silenced them for several months. Needless to say, the Dodgers took care of business.
And, as Dontrelle Willis pointed out on FOX's MLB coverage this weekend, they didn't dominate because they were fueled by a desire to "beat the Padres," necessarily. They dominated because they want to win the NL West (again), no matter who they have to take out in the process.
Dodgers analyst Dontrelle Willis thinks Padres fans are obsessed with LA
"The Dodgers respect the Padres. But the Padres fans -- and that team -- eat, breathe and sleep the Dodgers. The Dodgers do not," Willis emphatically stated alongside fellow analyst Mark Sweeney (who also called it "not a rivalry").
What a perfect distillation.
The Dodgers are well aware that, when the Padres congeal, they might end up with the kind of roster that can bulldoze Los Angeles in a short series. After all, they just did it, and poured more money into the mix this offseason to try and repeat.
It's not a defined rivalry. It's just a matchup between two very good teams, one of which is better on a consistent basis and has been for years.
When the Dodgers beat the Padres -- as they did, like a drum, all weekend long -- they line up, shake hands, and smile and nod at their homegrown depth. When the Padres beat the Dodgers -- once -- they preen on the scoreboard, leaving their fans spiraling for justification over a week later, with no more victories to be found.
In other words, the Padres sure are lucky the Dodgers "respect" them. Because, at this point, without a postseason humbling last year, they really wouldn't have to.