On September 19, A. J. Preller, the president of baseball operations and general manager for the San Diego Padres, insisted, “we continue to focus on qualifying for the playoffs and playing through October.” Just six days later, all hope died for San Diego’s only major sports franchise–on national television, of course. The Swag Chains and Slam Diego t-shirts will have to be put away until next year. That Most Valuable Players trophy for Fernando Tatis Jr.’s will most likely go to another player.
Adding to the profound disappointment, two teams from the National League West, the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers, have punched their own ticket thanks to more than 100 wins by both teams. Meanwhile, the Padres sunk to below .500 at 78 and 79, the first time since mid-April the team has had a losing record.
Thanks to the second-half collapse, the Padres will keep to their streak of not reaching the playoffs in a regular 162-game season. In fact, that drought has lasted since 2006 during Kevin Tower’s time as general manager. With Peter Seidler, Ron Fowler, and Peller in charge, the team has had only one winning season—last year’s 60-game sprint.
Propelled by last year’s playoff appearance, a multitude of pundits picked the Padres to win between 94 and 98 games. Now, there’s no guarantee they’ll make it to 80. With stars like Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado, with the addition of top-flight starting pitchers, with a record payroll of 175.8 million dollars (eighth in Major League Baseball), this has to be the most confoundedly disappointing season in the team’s 53 years of existence.
These days the Padres rarely win two games in a row and have not won four consecutive games since early August against the Arizona Diamondbacks and Miami Marlins. Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals have become almost unbeatable, winning 17 straight games and ensuring the team a playoff berth. Especially galling, the Giants clinched a playoff spot on September 13th in a 9-1 thrashing of the Padres, even earlier than in their three World Series titles years of 2010, 2012, 2014.
Against the Giants, San Diego’s Yu Darvish gave up eight runs on 96 pitches in just four innings, for just the second time in 208 total starts. On his fourth pitch, Tommy Stella launched a home run. Darvish then yielded a triple and two walks, followed by a three-run home run by Evan Longoria for a total of five runs. Overall, Darvish has given up 27 home runs, fourth in National League, 17 in the last ten starts. As a team, the Padres endured their 20th loss in the 28 games.
As of September 21, MLB.com’s Power Rankings show the Padres falling from 12th to 16th place. In happier days, San Diego ranked near the top of the heap.
- White Sox
- Blue Jays
- Red Sox
How could this happen to a team that sent five players to the All-Star game: Yu Darvish (3.09 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 125 strikeouts over 105 innings); Mark Melancon 25 saves; Tatis Jr; Jake Cronenworth (2nd base), and Manny Machado (a replacement). It should be noted that Trea Turner, the ex-Padre and now Dodger, went as a reserve.
As the season has fallen apart, Preller’s choices at the trade deadline have received a large portion of the blame. Injuries have taken their toll, especially on pitchers, but the Dodgers and Giants have also had more than their fair share of injuries.
Instead of picking up a steady starting pitcher, the Padres added Adam Frazier to their already crowded infield. He arrived from Pittsburgh with a slash line of .324/.388/.448/.836. With his new team, he’s fallen to .269/.330/.331/661, all below his career numbers.
Since the second month of the season, concern about the overuse of the bullpen has ratcheted up with each passing day. Inevitably, relievers have, as a group, become less effective and efficient. The injured list is currently littered with starters as well as relief pitchers, including Chris Paddack, Blake Snell, Craig Stammen, Adrian Morejon, Michel Baez, Matt Strahm, Drew Pomeranz, Dan Altavilla, Jagger Haynes, Keone Kela, Jose Castillo, and Mike Clevinger.
Only one starting pitcher, Joe Musgrove, has been able to withstand a 162 game season.
Thanks to the myriad of trades involving Padres’ prospects, the farm system has also suffered, as has the development of MacKenzie Gore. According to MLB.com, Gore has fallen from number two before the season began to 56 in the latest top 100 rankings. For more than a year, Gore’s arrival with the big club has been pushed back. On a more positive note, CJ Abrams ranks number six, Luis Campusano 37, and Robert Hassell 43.
Third baseman Machado recently lamented, “We fell short as a team, as an organization, and as a ballclub.” Of course, he’ll be back and have another chance at the brass ring. Other Padres will are playing for their baseball lives or for their next contract.
The Padres brass has undoubtedly already begun their analysis of what went wrong in 2021. Did Preller overpay for players like Tommy Pham, Jurickson Profar, and Ha-Seong Kim? Can Snell and Darvish recapture lost form? What about Tatis’ shoulder? Who keeps their job, who doesn’t? On and on, the second-guessing will go.
Manager Jayce Tingler may join other sacrificial lambs like pitching coach Larry Rothschild and farm director Sam Geaney who have been already been fired. Too late, Tingler admitted on MLB Network Radio, “I need to be better at taking charge, handling confrontations. I wish I would have addressed some of these things head-on.”
In years past, Ron Fowler would have had steam coming out of his ears and would let everyone know exactly how he felt. However, chairman Peter Seidler has not aired out the team publically, as he waits until the end of the season to dissect a season that ended with a whimper.
T.S. Eliot “The Hollow Men”
“This is the way the world ends-
Not with a bang but a whimper.”