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Has Dodgers-Giants rivalry been upstaged by Dodgers-Padres?

Xander Bogaerts receives a throw as Will Smith (16) slides into second base. | Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Fans who turned on ESPN last weekend were treated to a thrilling edition of what’s currently the best rivalry in West Coast baseball.

Mookie Betts hit a game-tying home run with two outs in the ninth and Redwood City native James Outman hit a two-run blast in the 10th to power the Los Angeles Dodgers to a series victory over the San Diego Padres.

Yes, the San Diego Padres. Not the San Francisco Giants.

For the moment, the Padres are LA’s biggest challenger in the National League West. All three games were played before standing-room only crowds at Petco Park, with fans even scrambling for a spot on the lawn in center field some 600 feet beyond home plate.

Jake Cronenworth applies a tag to a sliding Mookie Betts. | Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The games had the sort of feeling that took over Oracle Park when the Giants were in the middle of their early 2010s runs. Raucous crowds, high intensity and the feeling of the challenger trying to unseat the old guard.

Compare that to when the Dodgers came to San Francisco in April. Half of the crowd at each game was in Dodger Blue, and in two of the three games, their cheers sounded throughout McCovey Cove, no matter how many “Beat LA” chants the sound guy tried to start.

There were, understandably, lots of Dodger fans in San Diego as well. But it wasn’t the same full-scale takeover that used to occur in the Gaslamp District that led Dodger fans to anoint Petco Park as “Dodger Stadium South.” Brown and gold were clearly the dominant colors in the stadium, even though its seats are painted blue. This weekend, they’re battling again, 124 miles to the north.

Both the Giants and Padres have faced the Dodgers in the playoffs, adding further fuel to the fire. In 2020, the Dodgers swept San Diego in the National League Division Series (NLDS) in an empty Globe Life Field in Arlington. A year later, LA beat the Giants in the NLDS in five. Last year, San Diego finally knocked the Dodgers off in four.

But it’s clearly the Padres who command the most attention right now. Sure, Giants fans still rejoice when the Dodgers are eliminated. It just doesn’t have that same energy in the ballpark or around the baseball universe.

So why has the tide turned? The answer, of course, is complicated.

Some of it is simply that the Padres have, since the start of 2020, been a much better team. Even though 2021 was a disaster for San Diego that culminated in the firing of manager Jayce Tingler, the Padres have spent generously on the likes of Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Xander Bogaerts to build a star-studded roster. It’s a far cry from a decade ago, when Will Venable and Chase Headley were the faces of the team. Machado is a central figure to the rivalry, having spent the end of the 2018 season with the Dodgers after a trade from the Baltimore Orioles.

Even with former Dodgers Joc Pederson, Ross Stripling and Alex Wood playing for the Giants, the same element just isn’t there. Pederson hears some boos at Dodger Stadium, but was cheered warmly when he made his initial return with the Chicago Cubs in 2021, a return that included a World Series ring presentation. Wood got the same treatment, even in Giants colors.

Joc Pederson (23) has played for both the Giants and Dodgers. | Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Most of the central characters to the biggest Dodgers-Giants moments of the 2010s aren’t around anymore. Madison Bumgarner was recently released by the Arizona Diamondbacks, while Yasiel Puig hasn’t played in a Major League game since 2019 and is currently facing criminal charges stemming from a gambling probe. Max Muncy is the closest thing to a Dodgers-Giants villain right now, and his “get it out of the ocean” quote was back in 2019. Now he’s just known for annihilating Giants pitching, including a pair of two-homer games in San Francisco already this year.

On the other hand, Tatis has been booed loudly at Dodger Stadium, and when the Padres head to Chavez Ravine this weekend, it’ll likely get even louder as it’s his first trip to Los Angeles since his steroid suspension. Last Friday, the Padres added more fuel to the fire, displaying a meme of Clayton Kershaw crying on the Petco Park scoreboard after winning the series opener.

Surroundings also play a factor. Since the Chargers moved to Los Angeles in 2017, the Padres have been the main event in San Diego, a metro area of more than 3 million people. The next biggest teams in the area would be the San Diego State Aztecs. On the other hand, the nearly 8 million people in the Bay Area don’t just have another baseball team to focus on. They also have the San Francisco 49ers, who made back-to-back NFC Championship Game appearances, and the Golden State Warriors, who have won four championships and reached the NBA Finals twice since the Giants last advanced beyond the NLDS.

This isn’t to say that San Diego’s role as the Dodgers’ biggest adversary will be permanent, or anything close to it. Aside from pennant races in 1996 and 2006, San Diego has hardly ever been so closely linked with Los Angeles. The Giants-Dodgers rivalry has over a century of history spanning both coasts, and one day, it’ll return to the spotlight again.

But for now, it’s San Diego’s time.