Examining the 2020 MLB season for the San Diego Padres.
On July 24th, the long-awaited Major League Baseball season began a foot race rather than the usual long slog. In the first two games, the New York Yankees prevailed over last year’s World Series Champion Washington Nationals 4-1, while the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the San Francisco Giants 8-1.
The next day, the Padres and the rest of baseball took the field for games that count. The Padres started against the division rival Arizona Diamondbacks with Chris Paddack on the mound and Francisco Mejia behind the plate, an odd decision considering Paddack’s 2.65 ERA with Hedges 17 games behind the plate, compared to 4.73 with Mejia in nine games.
However, the strategy worked, in large part, because of Eric Hosmer‘s newfound ability to get the ball in the air. Responsible for six runs in a 7-2 win over the D-Backs, Hosmer achieved a launch angle higher than 22 degrees. To put that feat into perspective, his launch angle averaged -1.5 in 2018 and 1.9 in 2019, according to Baseball Savant.
Except for the empty stands, masked coaches, and muted celebrations, baseball fans got a break from our grim reality. Many teams, including the Padres, must navigate deadly Covid-19 outbreaks in California, New York, Florida, Texas, and Arizona.
Before the season began, breaking even had been the most optimistic expectation, and that alone would have been a significant improvement. Of course, the Los Angeles Dodgers still stand in the way of San Diego winning the division, but the shortened season and expanded playoffs may benefit the Padres. Thursday, MLB unveiled the new plan in which 16 teams total reach playoffs.
The baseball prognosticators who have dismissed the Padres (with good reason) now predict the team will have a winning season for the first time in a decade. Some, like Dan Bernstein of the Sporting News, even suggest the Padres might sneak into the playoffs. FanGraphs gives the team a 73.5 percent chance of making the playoffs.
Although Jacob Shafer of Bleacher Report opines that the Padres “might be able to take advantage of the 60-game season, get hot and surprise everyone,” the odds would be 30-1 against the team winning the World Series. However, any of these predicted outcomes would be a vast improvement.
Keith Law, The Athletic, Standings
FiveThirtyEight Playoff Chances
Dodgers 85 %
Diamondbacks 29 %
Padres 25 %
Rockies 16 %
Giants 4 %
ESPN power rankings
In a night of firsts–the first season interrupted by a deadly virus, the first 60-game season, the first recognition of the Black Lives Matter movement–the Padres had several firsts. Chris Paddack made his first opening day start; Jayce Tingler his first game as a major league manager; Eric Hosmer his first six-RBI game; Padres pitchers their first game without Darren Balsley (the Padres” pitching coach for 17 years); newcomers Tommy Pham, Jurickson Profar and Trent Grisham their first game in Petco Park (and each got on base with a hit, a walk, or both).
Whatever happens in our tenuous times, the Padres certainly “announced their presence with authority.”*
*Ebby Calvin LaLoosh, “Bull Durham“