Like many of his teammates, Freddie Freeman already seemed tired of the topic.
Asked Friday night about the significance of the Dodgers’ early success against the star-studded San Diego Padres — particularly in the wake of the Padres’ all-in offseason acquisitions and playoff elimination of the Dodgers last October — the first baseman followed an organization-wide lead.
He downplayed any discussion about the rivalry. He sidestepped any cliches or bulletin-board declarations. Instead, he kept his focus fixed on his own team, which has ridden a two-week hot streak to an early spot atop the National League West standings.
“I don’t know,” Freeman said of the Padres. “I mean, I’m happy they’re going for it. I don’t mind it. They want to win. That’s fine. But we got a really good team over here too. We’ve been playing good baseball the last couple weeks. We’re not trying to play the opponent. We play our game.”
It’s the same level-headed mindset the Dodgers have adopted for much of the last decade, during their unprecedented run of success in the NL West.
And lately, it has been accompanied by a throwback brand of on-field dominance, with the team winning its fifth straight series (and second in that stretch against the Padres) with a 4-2 defeat of their division rivals Saturday night at Dodger Stadium.
“There’s a lot of keys to success,” manager Dave Roberts said.
“I think one of them is putting more of your emphasis on your own ballclub and not being distracted by other variables, other factors, other teams. I think for me, it’s been a hallmark of all of our ballclubs. And this year is no different.”
Indeed, Saturday’s win — the Dodgers’ 12th in their last 14 games, and fourth in a row against a Padres team they also faced last weekend — featured a familiar recipe.
The Dodgers (25-15) got a strong start as Julio Urías gave up only two runs in seven impressive innings to improve to 5-3.
They got a timely piece of hitting, using J.D. Martinez’s three-run home run in the first inning to take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
And they got key contributions from an improving bullpen, with Evan Phillips tossing a clean eighth inning before Brusdar Graterol and Caleb Ferguson combined for the final three outs in the ninth.
“If you point to one area of the game during this stretch [we’ve been good at], it’s been the pitching,” Roberts said. “I think that the bullpen is really coming into its own.”
The same is quickly becoming true of the Dodgers as a whole.
With their lineup back at full strength, they’ve looked more like the consistent offensive powerhouse they hoped to be, keeping the pressure on Padres starter Joe Musgrove on Saturday with eight hits and a key fourth run on a Will Smith RBI single in the third.
“It’s potent,” said Martinez, whose return from a back injury this weekend gave the Dodgers their full complement of offensive weapons for the first time in more than a month.
“You got six, seven guys on this lineup that can carry the team that night,” Martinez added. “It’s a very dangerous lineup.”
The rotation also is starting to show its teeth, led by a recent resurgence from Urías that continued during his four-strikeout, three-hit gem Saturday.
After finishing April with a 4.41 earned-run average, the left-hander has returned to form in three starts during May, giving up only five runs in more than 19 innings.
On Saturday, he flashed one of his best stretches so far this season, bouncing back from solo home runs by Juan Soto in the first and Ha-Seong Kim in the second with five of his most dominant innings.
At one point, he retired 11 of 12 batters, with the lone exception coming on Mookie Betts’ first error of the season at shortstop.
Then, after a Max Muncy error and an infield single created a jam in the sixth, Urías escaped by snaring a comebacker near the mound and quickly initiating an inning-ending double play.
“I don’t even know how I made that play,” Urías said in Spanish with a laugh. “But it worked.”
So did the Dodgers’ late-game bullpen plan.
Phillips took down the eighth, navigating a pair of left-handed pinch-hitters before retiring Fernando Tatis Jr. for the third out.
In the ninth, Graterol took care of Manny Machado and Soto before yielding two softly hit singles. Ferguson was then summoned to end the game, striking out Jake Cronenworth for his first save in five years.
“We feel that any one of those guys can finish a game, can close a game,” Roberts said.
“To be able to deploy them at any point where we feel is best for the ballclub is huge value.”
Also just as valuable is the six-game cushion the Dodgers have opened in the standings between themselves and the Padres (19-21) — a club that might not be occupying much of the Dodgers’ attention but will nonetheless linger in their rear-view mirror.
“We’ve got to just continue to play good baseball,” Roberts said, looking ahead to the opportunity for a series sweep Sunday. “We’ve done the work to put ourselves in a good spot right now.
“And we have a chance to really go for the jugular tomorrow.
“That’s our intent.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.