The San Diego Padres are set to begin a series with a familiar postseason foe, the St. Louis Cardinals.
When Padres fans sat back and watched the mayhem unfold on the last day of the season on Sunday, their eyes widened as the St. Louis Cardinals emerged as the opponent for this week’s Wild Card series at Petco Park.
Memories and, for some, anxiety came flooding in as the very same organization that has eliminated the Padres from three of their last four postseason appearances and the only National League team that has sent San Diego packing early from the playoffs will once again stand in the way of the Friars advancing.
In 1996, St. Louis swept the Friars thanks to Ron Gant batting .400 and Brian Jordan hitting a go-ahead two-run homer off Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman in the ninth inning of Game 3. In 2005, the Cardinals won 100 games and rode Albert Pujols, David Eckstein, and Jim Edmonds right through the Padres like a hot knife through butter with another sweep. In 2006, the Padres did win one of the games of the series thanks to a heroic effort from Chris Young on the mound in Game 3. But Chris Carpenter pitched two games and shut the Friars down, and the Cardinals eventually won the World Series.
There are two ways to process the fact that the Padres face the Cardinals yet again, in their first playoff series in 14 years. One is a feeling of dread and impending doom as the Padres must meet the same team that has ended their hopes and dreams in 60 percent of their playoff runs. Another is one that the 2020 Padres seem to embrace, and that is thinking this is a golden opportunity to make a statement further that this isn’t your father’s Padres. If the Padres can dispatch of the Cardinals this week, they will reach heights few squads in franchise history of reached and continue this magical run of 2020.
First, winning the Wild Card series means that San Diego will have won their first playoff series since they defeated the Atlanta Braves in the 1998 NLCS. There have only been two seasons out of 51 years where San Diego has advanced in the playoffs, and they have a chance to do it again, against a team that has stood in the way year after year like that bully with one fist clenched, ready to pound you and the other held out for your lunch money.
This Padres team has been the darlings of the shortened 2020 season, as the team even got a nickname in “Slam Diego.” The teardown, the rebuild, the large contracts, the trades, everything will be validated with a series win over the Cardinals. However, the players won’t be satisfied until they are tasting the large pastry.
The Cardinals are a storied franchise with 23 league pennants and 11 World Series titles, basically the exact opposite of the Padres’ franchise history. However, this also is not your older brother’s Cardinals, who won championships in 2006 and 2011. This season, they snuck into the playoffs with a 30-28 record and +11 run differential compared to 37-23 and +84 for the Friars. If you have watched the Padres this season, you know that this team is not afraid of anything and will not back down, even against a team with a red bird on its jersey.