2020 represented a year full of challenges and unfortunate circumstances, but the San Diego Padres delivered some good cheer anyway.
No single person is reading this that has not been affected by what 2020 has brought in some way, shape, or form. From a pandemic to riots, to racial injustice, to a stressful political environment, at times, it has been far, far too much to handle. In times like these, we remember why we love sports. Yes, sports are a trivial thing in the grand scheme of real life, but that does not mean they aren’t important to each and every one of us.
2020, more than any other year, has reminded us that sports can be a reprieve, an escape, an avenue to experience human emotions not often felt in other aspects of our lives. They help us feel alive. This past baseball season gave Padres fans a bit of relief during this challenging year. This was the most fun for Padres fans in decades, perhaps ever. Yes, other Padres teams have achieved more than winning one playoff series, but the way these 2020 Friars did it was so invigorating and inspiring.
The Friars started the season with hopes of making the postseason, especially after Major League Baseball announced that it would be a 16-team playoff with eight coming from each league. They jumped out to a 6-2 start and were briefly in sole possession of first place in the NL West. However, they began to falter and fell below .500, heading in that critical series against the Texas Rangers.
Then “Slam Diego” was born. The Padres won seven straight, including hitting grand slams in four consecutive games, an MLB record, and added a fifth after six games. Not very many teams have a nickname or a “thing.” The Bash Bros in Oakland with Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco. The Big Red Machine. Murderer’s Row. The Miracle Mets. Though the Padres haven’t won a championship to go along with their nickname, getting a nickname is a good first step. “Slam Diego” is here to stay as long as Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado are roaming the left side of the infield at Petco Park. Eric Hosmer, Wil Myers, and Jake Cronenworth also got in on the fun, with Hosmer’s slam sealing the record. It took the league by storm, and the Padres were the talk of baseball for days on end. Tatis’ grand slam heard ’round the world sent shockwaves through baseball and had everyone reconsidering unwritten rules.
Speaking of Fernando Tatis and Manny Machado, those two by themselves made it downright cool to be a Padres fan in 2020. I have never worn the brown and gold more proudly than I did this season with this team. For up until the last few weeks of the season, Tatis was the clear MVP favorite. Between “Opening Day” and September 7, Tatis batted .314 with a 1.068 OPS and 182 wRC+. Every major website and writer had him penciled in as the National League MVP until his deep slump. From September 8 to the end of the regular season, he batted a lowly .164 and finished fourth in MVP voting. However, he came alive just in time, when it mattered most, in the Wild Card Series.
Manny Machado came on a little late to start the year but then played at an MVP level the rest of the way. He finished third in the voting and ended with a .304 average, .950 OPS, and 158 OPS+.
The Wild Card series was huge for the perception of the Padres as a franchise and their progress during this long rebuild. The fact that they played the St. Louis Cardinals was poetic, the same franchise that has eliminated the Friars in three of their previous five playoff runs in franchise history. It was a golden opportunity to defeat a big demon in Padres history.
Boy, did the boys in brown and gold deliver.
All seemed lost after dropping Game 1 and then trailing into the sixth inning, facing elimination in Game 2. It seemed like the same old, same old Padres. Tatis turned the tide with an enormous three-run home run, cutting the deficit to one. Manny Machado responded with a game-tying solo shot as the very next batter.
Wil Myers hit a home run in the seventh to give the Friars the lead, and then…Tatis became a legend.
— MLB Europe (@MLBEurope) October 2, 2020
I am still unsure what landed first, the ball over the right-field fence or his bat upon his seismic bat flip of all bat flips. This sealed the win for the Padres, forcing a Game 3, which they went on to win.
It was more than just a home run or a bat flip. That moment created Tatis, the international superstar. And it’s so darn cool that he’s wearing the Padres’ best uniforms in franchise history while doing it.
Plus, who could forget the absolute frenzy San Diego went into after the Padres won their first playoff series since 1998? It was second only to a possible World Series parade someday. Padres fans have tasted winning and are now wanting more. That was one of the most fun nights ever to be a Padres fan.
Yes, the season ended with a thud, being swept by the eventual World Series champion Dodgers, but we can’t let that take away from how truly special 2020 was for Padres fans.
The fun didn’t end when the Padres got eliminated. Award season came, and the Padres were well-represented. Yes, it was disappointing to see the MVP slip away from Tatis and Machado, but that didn’t mean they came away empty-handed. First, the Gold Gloves were handed out, and for the first time since 2012, the Friars had a player awarded one. Trent Grisham, who was a revelation of a trade before the season, won his first Gold Glove while patrolling center field at Petco Park.
Silver Sluggers were then handed out, and for the first time since 1992, not one but two Friars were awarded Silver Sluggers. Tatis and Machado at shortstop and third base, respectively, were declared the best hitters in the National League at those two positions. Pile that on top of both of them winning First-Team All-MLB, the Padres can proudly say they have the best shortstop-third base combination in all of baseball.
Jake Cronenworth had a very strong case for Rookie of the Year, with a .831 OPS and finished second in voting.
Those weren’t the only feel-good stories for the Friars this season. Wil Myers went from an albatross of a contract to an inspiring comeback story. He ended up with a higher OPS in 2020 than former MVP Mookie Betts, who finished second in MVP voting. His .959 OPS and 1.8 WAR earned himself an MVP vote, and should’ve been Comeback Player of the Year. Eric Hosmer redeemed himself as well, with a 131 OPS+ and .851 OPS, his best numbers in three years in San Diego.
On the pitching side, Dinelson Lamet emerged as a legitimate ace, leading the club with 93 strikeouts, which was tied for fourth in the National League. Coming in midseason from a trade, closer Trevor Rosenthal won the hearts of San Diegans on social media as well as on the mound.
San Diego Padres fans have plenty to be thankful for as the calendar year comes to a close. Although it was a year fraught with stress and despair, the Friars were able to provide a bright silver lining for San Diegans and Padres fans everywhere.