Is Padres-Dodgers the new Yankees-Red Sox? Ranking MLB’s 5 best rivalries right now

  • Covers MLB for ESPN.com
  • Former deputy editor of Page 2
  • Been with ESPN.com since 1995

On April 15, 1969, the expansion San Diego Padres played the Los Angeles Dodgers for the first time. Claude Osteen pitched a three-hit shutout, Andy Kosco hit a grand slam off Johnny Podres, and the Dodgers won 14-0. They won the next night as well, 9-1 — another complete game, another Kosco home run. The Dodgers won the first four times they played and nine of the first 11.

The Padres have never led the all-time series, which the Dodgers currently lead 485 to 404. The last time the Padres won the season series was in 2010. Since joining the National League, the Padres have made the playoffs six times. The Dodgers are going for their ninth straight division title.

So is this a rivalry, given the lopsided history?

As Steve Garvey, who played for both clubs, recently told Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times, “When I was with the Dodgers, we’d go down there and for us it was almost like a three-day vacation.” A friend of mine recently texted me that Padres fans believe Dodgers fans still view San Diego like that little beach town to the south.

Yet, rivalries always feel more like a moment in time than a history lesson. Yes, decades of competitive playoff races or heated feuds add to the intensity, especially among the fans, but as the Padres and Dodgers battle for the second time in 2021, it seems clear this has a chance to be the best rivalry in baseball. Of course, the Padres need to start winning and turn this into a race; it won’t be much fun if the Dodgers are leading the division by a dozen games at the end of May.

While we rarely see the all-out brawls like we did 20 and 30 years ago, a little bad blood goes a long way in a rivalry. We saw some of that last weekend in the first series when Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw and Padres outfielder Jurickson Profar had a heated exchange over a catcher’s interference call, when Profar swung late and hit the back of Austin Barnes’ glove. Teammates rushed out on the field to separate the two. “I’m not saying it was intentional, but that was not a big league swing there,” Kershaw said later.

The elements are thus lining up for a strong rivalry:

1. Two good, maybe great, teams
2. Some bad blood
3. The fan bases don’t like each other
4. A less successful franchise trying to topple a more successful one

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