The 2019 World Series is over and it is time for the San Diego Padres to get started on what looks to be a very busy winter.
Left Coast Sports Babe (Janice Hough) said it all — the “worst thing about a World Series Game 7. There is no Game 8.” There is no ball at all until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, which seems about a million years away. Padres baseball won’t resume again until February 22, when the Padres face the Seattle Mariners in Peoria, AZ.
No one expressed the angst of true fans better than former commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti (who obviously loved the game a whole lot more than current complainer Rob Manfred).
“[Baseball] breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall all alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight when you need it most, it stops.”
For Padres fans, the second-half swoon combined with the promise of Fernando Tatis Jr. will no doubt lead to a winter of collective discontent coupled with cautious optimism. If Preller identified Tatis Jr.’s talent, perhaps he’s just one example of what fans have to look forward to as highly rated prospects like MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patino finally arrive in San Diego.
Unfortunately, the playoffs have also highlighted the leaps and bounds the Padres must take to reach and compete in the postseason. After all, isn’t that the point of the long grind? Isn’t that the implied promise of the current owners?
This World Series has positively reinforced the notion that stud pitchers remain a requirement for playing into October and winning the ultimate prize. Game 7 featured two former first-round draft picks who became Cy Young winners, Zack Greinke of the Houston Astros and Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals.
In Game 6 San Diego State University product Stephen Strasburg overcame the relentless offense of the Astros in a brilliant 8 1/3 innings, giving up only five hits and two runs. He outpitched Justin Verlander (the very definition of a stud pitcher with a career 70.9 WAR and regular-season record of 225-129, 3.33 ERA, 1.135 WHIP) to halt the Astros’ momentum in a series in which the visiting team has won every game.
Strasburg will undoubtedly be considered for the Cy Young award after a season in which he won 18 games to six losses and compiled a 3.32 ERA and 1.038 WHIP in the regular season, 2.51 ERA and 1.047 WHIP in the World Series. The Padres haven’t boasted a Cy Young winner since 2007 when Jake Peavy joined Randy Jones (1976), Gaylord Perry (1978), Mark Davis (1989).
Although rumors have abounded that adding a front-line starting pitcher would be a priority in the offseason, Preller seems to be backing off from that goal. The team may just end up with some combination of Chris Paddack, Garrett Richards, Dinelson Lamet, Joey Lucchesi, Eric Lauer, and Cal Quantrill with Gore and Patino joining the mix at some point during the season.
Like the Padres, the Nationals (which started as the Montreal Expos) had never won the big prize. Both came into existence in 1969. Perhaps Washington’s victory will give the Padres, Texas Rangers (1961), Milwaukee Brewers (1969), Seattle Mariners (1977), Colorado Rockies (1993), and Tampa Bay Rays (1977) a dash of hope.
Coupled with solid pitching, both Houston and Washington played fundamentally sound baseball both defensively and offensively throughout the series. That cannot be said of the Padres this season. Sloppy became a common word used to describe the defense (especially in that absence of Tatis). At the plate, batters flailed away, swinging for the fences and striking out 24.3 percent of plate appearances.
The obvious gulf between teams like the Nationals and the Padres, as well as owner impatience, will make this offseason the most important of General Manager A.J. Preller’s tenure. Preller has tied his fate to rookie manager Jayce Tingler, a familiar face from his time with the Texas Rangers.
Like his recent hire, Andy Green, Tingler has never managed in the big leagues. But he comes with a reputation for getting the most from his players, just as Dave Martinez (who was hired in October 2017) did with Washington this year. Can Tingler also establish a culture in the dugout like the one that helped the Nationals prevail after a season that began with a 19-31 record?
From the beginning of the playoffs, the Nationals demonstrated tenacity on the field, a passionate connection with fans (shown by the “Baby Shark” singalong), and a solid bond among teammates in part thanks to Martinez.
Other issues abound, with question marks all over the field except at third base, shortstop, and first base as the Padres are stuck with Eric Hosmer and his burdensome contract. Other teams have expressed frustration at dealing with Preller in trade discussions in the past, and he will have to be more willing to give up some of his prize prospects to get quality in return.
Throughout his time in San Diego, Preller has traveled different routes each year, sometimes even making a U-turn from the previous season, so unpredictability may be the most reliable prediction. At the very least, as fans approach the fall and winter with no ball at all, this offseason promises to be anything but boring.