9:52 AM AST

The San Diego Padres were an enigma this year. Their talent did not match up with their play. Good stretches followed bad stretches. When high expectations were high, they were quickly reduced. They believed that their best baseball was still in front of them and that they had yet to reach their ceiling.

At the most important juncture, it appeared.

The Padres won three of five road games against two teams that combined for more than 200 victories during the regular season. They took two of three against the New York Mets at Citi Field over the weekend, stunning them in the wild-card round, and they have now split the first two games of their division series against the Dodgers. The Padres' latest victory, by a 5-3 score at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday night, saw them display stellar defense, string together timely hits and shut down the best offense in baseball.

The Padres will play at home in the playoffs for the first time in six years.

The path towards defeating the Dodgers seems clear now.

"I think we all believe in each other, that's the way I see it," said Padres third baseman. All year, we believed in each other. We have been doing it for the entire year. As a group, it's just clicking. It's just a matter of desire. We want to go to the World Series and win a title in San Diego. The group is grinding this out.

The Padres fought back after dropping the first game. They fell behind by five runs and were down by two by the middle of the game. That carried over into the second game.

The home run came in the very first frame, when Machado hit a hanging pitch from the Dodgers' ace over the left-field fence. The Padres came back with three straight hits that produced two additional runs in the top of the third, after the Dodgers had answered with two solo homers. The Dodgers tied it with another solo home run in the bottom of the first, this one by Trea Turner, and the Padres regained the lead on a single from Jurickson Profar. Jake Cronenworth provided a big insurance run in the eighth when he hit a home run.

When Mookie Betts tried to steal second base in the fifth, Padres catcher Austin Nola made a perfect throw to first. Turner followed with a 103 mph bullet to the left side, and Machado corralled it with a nice play. When the Dodgers put the first two runners on in the bottom of the sixth against Yu Darvish, Robert Suarez came out of theReliever and shut them down, striking out Justin Turner and getting a double play to end the game.

"We had ups and downs in the season, but we all know that we have a great team and we can do a lot of damage."

One of the most important plays was turned in by Soto. Muncy hit a deep drive to right in the sixth that went off the fence. Muncy and Will Smith were forced to hold up, preventing a run from scoring and preserving what became a crucial double play, after Soto shot his glove into the air pretending to catch a routine fly ball.

Dave Roberts stated that the deke got Muncy. At that point in time, he sold it so well that Max slowed down and ended up at first base.

The Dodgers turned in solid defense in their own right, particularly in the sixth, when Brusdar Graterol made a slick barehand play at home. The Padres made the Dodgers pay for Turner's error by scoring a run. Good teams do that.

"We played a lot of close games during the season, and it seemed like we were always losing those games," Profar said.

The Padres are operating like a different team now, and it's showing against the opponent that is giving them the most trouble. In the last nine games against the Padres, the Dodgers have scored more than twice as many runs against them as they have against them. Their run-differential was the largest in the history of the playoffs.

All that matters is that the Padres can win two of the next three. They will host the next two games. In Games 3 and 4, the Dodgers will be facing a pitcher who has historically pitched well against them, as well as another who has excelled against the Mets. The Dodgers have reached the uncertain part of their rotation with Tony Gonsolin, who hasn't pitched in more than two months. His start will change into a relief game.

The Dodgers defeated the Padres in the NL West during the season. "We lost to them." We played well during the season. We know we can beat them if we play our best baseball.