Column: Parents toppled one NL dynasty; Dodgers would make it two


Attention, thrill-ride enthusiasts: Here we go again, and that bulletin applies to more than Thursday’s launch of another series between the Padres and Dodgers.

Reminiscent of 1998, the Padres are trying to topple an current National League dynasty. They don’t come along very often, but the Dodgers have earned “D” status.

In 1998 the Braves were a comparable NL force to these Dodgers and loomed as an October obstacle to an unusually talented Padres team.

By then Atlanta was in the middle of winning 14 straight division titles (the first three in the West before realignment) along with five pennants and one World Series trophy.

In comparison, the Dodgers have claimed eight West titles, three pennants and one World Series trophy the past eight years. Reinforcing preseason talk they might win 120 games, the Dodgers are 14-4.

In ’98 the Braves returned to the playoffs via 106 victories, the most in franchise history.

The West-champion Padres, whose 98 victories were a franchise record, defeated them for the World Series berth, four victories to two.

Unfortunately for this year’s Padres team, the ’98 squad didn’t pass along a how-to manual, “How I Blew Up the Death Star.”

But lessons can apply.

What the Padres had going for them, beyond talent, was a grounded belief that if they saw the Braves in October, as seemed likely to happen, they would knock them off.

Educating a baseball reporter that summer, Tony Gwynn and Ken Caminiti spoke of their Braves obsession on a quiet afternoon at the ballpark.

“I know we can beat them, it’s just frustrating that we haven’t,” Caminiti said while seated in the home dugout, hours before batting practice.

Gwynn said Padres hitters needed to stay poised when Braves pitchers coaxed strike calls on outside pitches that were an inch or three off the corner, a staple to Atlanta’s pitching success.

Bat control, that was the Padres’ ticket. Gwynn said it would allow them to scrape up runs against top-tier pitching such as Atlanta’s.

“We can beat them,” said Gwynn, who wasn’t prone to overestimating Padres’ capabilities.

Success fueled the belief.

Gwynn was accustomed to slapping line drives off Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine.

Steve Finley had become a two-way star. Greg Vaughn was in the midst of hitting 50 home runs. Wally Joyner could tag difficult pitches.

Brown was a not-so-secret, devastating weapon. A hired gun obtained by Kevin Towers in a trade that offseason, he threw explosive pitches that had stunned even Gwynn as an opponent. In the previous October, Gwynn and Caminiti saw Brown lead the Florida Marlins past Atlanta in the League Championship Series.

Wearing Padres road grays under a navy blue cap, Brown defeated the Braves nearly by himself in Game 2. He went the distance, allowing no runs. Making his way home after lashing one of his two hits from him, he outscored the Braves.

Yet last Saturday, Padres newcomer Yu Darvish was nearly as effective against the Dodgers. He gave up only one run in seven innings. Joe Musgrove, another newcomer, has baffled Padres opponents with sliders, cutters and curves. Rookie Ryan Weathers was impressive in the series opener against LA Surely Blake Snell will pitch into sixth innings, sooner than later.

Looking to shake a poor start on offense and defense, Fernando Tatis Jr. can take inspiration from Dominican countryman Quilvio Veras, the second baseman on the ’98 Padres.

Looseness in his left shoulder led to Veras wearing a shoulder harness in games that October, as Tatis Jr. has done, per The Athletic, since returning last Friday from a slight dislocation of his left shoulder. You will see ‘inability to spear a high liner led to outsiders’ discovery his shoulder was harnessed. Tatis, at 6-foot-3, already has good altitude.

Steve Garvey’s view that the Padres are very close to the Dodgers in talent but have worrisome health concerns seems near the mark, especially with Dinelson Lamet, a slider-heavy pitcher with a surgically repaired elbow, leaving Wednesday’s game with arm tightness.

Tatis is coming off his fourth serious injury since reaching Double-A. Emphasizing a two-handed swing finish, as he has to alleviate strain on the front shoulder, isn’t as simple as eating a fish taco with a new grip. Recent leg-muscle injuries have twice sidelined valuable Trent Grisham, whose rust may have caused the base-running miscue that cost the Padres a key run against LA Austin Nola’s hiatus since mid-spring training has revealed insufficient depth behind backup Victor Caratini.

There’s enough talent on hand, though, to challenge the Dodgers this weekend. A series victory, or even a split, would reap a confidence dividend. Baby steps count for something.