A surreal season in a surreal year for the Padres

Credit: AP Photo

Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 season has been very surreal for the San Diego Padres so far.

After taking two of three from the American League West-leading Oakland A’s and sweeping the Colorado Rockies, the San Diego Padres find themselves in unfamiliar territory. The team last reached the postseason 14 years ago, one of only five appearances in the franchise’s 50-plus years of existence. But this year, the only reasonable obstacle on the way to the playoffs would be a shutdown of the baseball season thanks to COVID-19.

At this point in this surreal year in this surreal season, literally, anything seems possible – even the Padres winning the World Series. Stranger things have already happened.

Spring Training started as usual, but at 4 p.m. March 12, the league suspended games for at least two weeks, leaving everyone from ownership to the ballpark ticket takers in limbo. At that time, most of us had yet to grasp the reality of the burgeoning global pandemic.

That two-week hiatus extended into July, and the Padres didn’t begin the season until the 24th when the presumed ace of the staff, Chris Paddack, led the team to a 7-2 victory against the Arizona Diamondbacks.  On August 17, a little less than a month into the 60-game revised edition of the season, the Padres sat at 12-12.  Although a middling record, just breaking even represented a vast improvement over team results in recent years.

Then the Padres put on the afterburners and started winning a whole lot more than losing, compiling a 29-17 record as of September 11. Even the most skeptical observers in this city starved for a championship can’t help but believe in this team right now. This version of the Padres can take down opponents with a grand slam in one game and shut them out in the next.

On September 7, Dinelson Lamet pitched 7 2/3 innings of shutout ball, which ended in a 1-0 victory over the Colorado Rockies thanks to a Greg Garcia pinch-hit single scoring a pinch-runner Jorge Mateo in the bottom of the ninth inning.  The next day, with recent addition Mike Clevinger on the mound, the very same team beat the very same opponent 14-5.  Taking the Slam Diego approach, Wil Myers hit a grand slam in the five-run first inning and followed that with a lead-off homer in the seventh.  In fact, the Padres have hit six grand slams since August 17.

At the revised trade deadline on August 31, General Manager A.J. Preller took a huge risk by making drastic changes in a roster that had achieved a 22-15 record to that point.  In a swap of 16 players for 10, he added Clevinger, reliever Trevor Rosenthal, catchers Jason Castro and Austin Nola, and first baseman/DH Mitch Moreland, among others.

While the addition of an ace to the rotation and reliever to the bullpen filled obvious needs, some of the moves, especially the brand new catching duo, could have led to confusion and upheaval.  Instead, the new pieces have fit in so far, and the team as a whole has just kept winning if not one way then another.  In fact, the changes could work against National League opponents who will be facing pitchers and hitters they’ve had little or no experience against.

Preller had added another critical piece in the offseason when he traded pitcher Eric Lauer and infielder Luis Urias to the Milwaukee Brewers for outfielder Trent Grisham and pitcher Zack Davies.  Sandwiched in among flame throwers Clevinger, Lamet, and Chris Paddack, Davies has become the team’s secret weapon of the pitching staff.

At 2.48 (to Lamet’s 2.24 ERA), Davies has the fifth-lowest ERA in the National League and is tied for first in wins with seven.  Over the past three seasons, his fastball has averaged 88.8 mph.  This year, that average actually dipped to 88.3 mph, a whopping 62 points below league average.  It’s all about location with Davies’ five pitches, and opposing batters have found his change-up particularly befuddling of late.

Credit: Padres

Who could have predicted that late in the season, three Padres players would find their way into the debates over worthy candidates for the Cy Young (Dinelson Lamet), Most Valuable Player (Fernando Tatis Jr.), and Rookie of the Year (Jake Cronenworth) Awards?  For years, San Diego players haven’t been mentioned in those conversations.  After all, the last MVP winner was Ken Caminiti in 1996, the last Cy Young winner Jake Peavy in 2007; the last ROY was Benito Santiago in 1987.

At the risk of jinxing this magical carpet ride, the 2020 Padres conjure up memories of 1998.  Can the addition of Clevinger have the impact of a Kevin Brown, one of the last pieces of the puzzle put together by General Manager Kevin Towers?  Can Dinelson Lamet come close to Sterling Hitchcock’s stunning performance capped by his 0.90 ERA and NLCS MVP award? Can Fernando Tatis Jr. follow in the legendary Tony Gwynn’s footsteps?

And what about Manny Machado, who has found his groove after a season and a half?  And, by the way, who is this Jake Cronenworth guy? A relatively unheralded prospect, Preller picked him up in the offseason trade for Tommy Pham with the Tampa Bay Rays.  Not only can he play multiple positions, including first base, which could come in handy with Eric Hosmer out with a broken finger, but he can also flat hit.  He’s batting .315/.371/.538/.909 OPS+ 145 in his first season in the big leagues.

According to FanGraphs, the Padres have a 100 percent chance of making the playoffs along with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Tampa Bay Rays, and Oakland Athletics.  If the playoffs started today, the Dodgers would face the Miami Marlins. The Padres would play the Philadelphia Phillies.

In a surreal season in a surreal year, anything seems possible for this Padres team.

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Diane Calkins
Baseball has been a part of Diane's life since her father played professionally (mostly at the minor league level). She has written for a number of publications and concentrated on companion animal welfare. She welcomes the opportunity to write about the sport she loves. Diane shares her home with her husband and a house full of rescued animals.

4 thoughts on “A surreal season in a surreal year for the Padres

  1. Another article of yours that I enjoyed reading Diane!

    This has been an unusual year to say the least. Asterisks will be attached to everything. You can attach and asterisk to the excitement and fun for me as a lifelong Padre fan… I don’t care. I cannot remember the last time I EXPECTED them to win each game. I remembered opening up the newspaper each morning to see if Randy Jones won and how long his game took. They weren’t on TV then and radio was not something always possible for me. I now plan my evenings around watching the Padre games. Withdrawal pains from last night and tonight!

    While I have NEVER been a Preller fan… I have to give him credit for this years team. This years team gets the credit for achieving so much. Bounce back years by Myers, Machado, Hosmer, and others have put us where we are. I have to really wonder if Green was such a negative on this team vs Tingler. Will certainly appears to be happier and more focused. One position equals a content Will Myers.

    The flurry of trades had everyone scrambling to put our roster back into order and perspective. It was worked well so far. I read Nola was not a “true catcher” and not his real position. While I worried there, he has handled the staff and the catching duties impressively.

    Regardless, I’m quite excited about where we are at. I truly hope we knock the Dodgers off their high horses. THAT alone would be the topping to this season! Doing so would likely mean the World Series will include SD. So… more good times and more hopefulness!

    1. Hello Tony C,
      Glad you enjoyed the article. I certainly appreciate your comments and can echo your point about actually expecting the Padres to win. It’s been a very, very long time indeed… We were all ready to watch the game last night and were so disappointed by the announcement that it had been canceled.
      Preller has certainly had mixed results in his time in San Diego, but this year he’s proven to be quite nimble in adding key pieces to the team under extremely difficult circumstances. I too have wondered if Andy Green was just the wrong manager for Wil Myers in particular. Plus, most of the time Myers has had to deal with constant trade rumors. But Tingler has gotten the best out of him.
      Fingers crossed that the Padres actually get to play the Dodgers and that they keep playing the way they have.
      Take care,

  2. Good article BUT this has been AJ’s plan for a few yrs now. An few awards you didn’t mention were:
    GM of the yr. Preller and his staff had an outstanding off season, between their draft (top three picks are very good), trades for Cronenworth, Davies and Pagan and finally the trade deadline trades without giving up more than one or two can’t miss prospect (we have better prospects to fill the holes in the MiLB) should have AJ in the mix for the award.

    How about Comeback player of the yr? Garrett Richards is definitely a good pick.

    Hope this has inspired a new article on the Pads and their very successful yr. Go Pads!

    1. Hi NorCalPadsFan,
      Glad you liked the article. Sure, Preller has had a plan, but this year has changed the landscape so completely that he undoubtedly had to improvise. The farm system he built almost from scratch made a lot of this possible, but on the whole everyone in baseball is operating more on a seat-of-the-pants basis than on the basis of a long-range plan. There’s no question that Preller has taken advantage of the situation.
      Thanks for reading,

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Diane Calkins
Baseball has been a part of Diane's life since her father played professionally (mostly at the minor league level). She has written for a number of publications and concentrated on companion animal welfare. She welcomes the opportunity to write about the sport she loves. Diane shares her home with her husband and a house full of rescued animals.