The Dodgers drop the magic number to nine and close out the season series against the Padres

Trayce Thompson hits a three-run home run off San Diego Padres reliever Adrian Morejon during the seventh inning of the Dodgers’ 9-4 victory Sunday night at Dodger Stadium. (Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)

The Dodgers magic number is now… a magic number.

With nine more Dodgers wins, San Diego Padres losses, or some combination of the two, the Dodgers will once again be National League West champions.

And based on the last two nights in Chavez Ravine, it won’t take much longer.

Despite using eight pitchers in what essentially became an unscheduled bullpen game Sunday night, the Dodgers still dismantled the Padres in a weekend rubber match at Dodger Stadium, winning 9-4 to move one step closer in regaining a division title they have won eight in a row. years from 2013 to 2020 before finishing second last season.

Last fall, the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants jockeyed for the top of the division, with the standings undecided until the final day of the season.

“Every game was do or die, it seemed like I was trying to jockey for a way to win the division last year,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts recalled.

This year, the Dodgers are running away from the team in near-historic fashion, extending their lead to 19 games over the second-place Padres, even on a night when their pitching didn’t go according to plan.

“We’ve put ourselves in a good position,” Roberts said. “The challenge is to go out there and play with urgency and keep the bar high.”

Although the Dodgers used an opener for the first time this season, Sunday’s outing was not meant to be a bullpen game.

Dodgers relief pitcher Alex Vecia celebrates after San Diego's Austin Nola struck out.

Dodgers reliever Alex Vecia celebrates when San Diego’s Austin Nola pops out to end the top of Sunday’s fourth inning. (Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)

After a scoreless first inning by Caleb Ferguson, in which the left-hander struck out all three batters he faced on just 11 pitches, rookie right-hander Ryan Pepiot entered for what the Dodgers hoped would be an extended relief appearance.

Seventy-four pitches later, Pepiot was walking off the mound after recording just six outs.

Recalled for Sunday’s game to give the Dodgers an extra day of rest, Peppiot struggled with his command and ability to finish at bats.

He issued four walks. He pitched in and out of trouble, driving in an unearned run in the third. And he was finally pulled after back-to-back free passes to start the quarter.

“He just didn’t have enough to put those guys away,” Roberts said. “So to go two up, we had to cover some innings.”

The Dodgers reached deep into their bullpen to do so.

Alex Vesia was called to first, stranding the two runners he inherited from Pepiot with two strikeouts and a popup.

The Dodgers offense then hung five runs on Padres starter Mike Clevinger in the bottom half of the fourth, first on a Will Smith home run, then on Cody Bellinger’s bases-loaded walk, his sacrifice fly Mookie Betts and two by Tria Turner. run bloop double.

Vecia returned to the mound to start the fifth, then handed the bat to Chris Martin for a scoreless inning.

About the only key leveraged reliever to pitch for the Dodgers previously was Evan Phillips, who in the seventh inning allowed two inherited runners to score, plus another run charged, to let the Padres back up to 5-4 .

“One night it just wasn’t,” Roberts said of Phillips, who hadn’t previously allowed a baserunner since Aug. 6. “That will happen.”

Once again, the Dodgers didn’t wait long to respond.

In the bottom of the seventh, their lineup exploded for another lopsided number, with Justin Turner lining an RBI double to left before Trace Thompson came off the bench and hit a pinch-hit home run – just the second major his ball. the season against lefty pitching.

The Dodgers (92-41) cruised the rest of the way, dropping their magic number from 12 to nine as they also swept their season series against the Padres (74-61), improving to 10-3 against the latter team for lock the head-to-head tiebreaker.

“This game was not easy to manage,” Roberts said after using all but one member of the bullpen. “But those guys made pitches when they needed to.”

The only question now is how long it will take the Dodgers to wrap up the division title.

Dodgers players celebrate after defeating the Padres on Sunday.

Dodgers players celebrate after defeating the Padres on Sunday. (Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)

The earliest they accomplished that in franchise history was in 2019, when they finished in their 146th game on September 10.

At their current pace, they could be popping the champagne even sooner — maybe, right, by the end of next weekend in San Diego, where they face the Padres again for a three-game series that begins Friday.

“We know where we are and that we have a big lead,” Smith said. “But we just have to keep wanting to play good baseball.”

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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