“This is the damndest season I’ve ever had,” Annie Savoy lamented in Bull Durham, one of the best baseball movies ever made. In this case, Annie referred to the Durham Bulls’ winning streak–and her empty bed. But the San Diego Padres’ 2021 season has real potential to be the damndest season in the history of the franchise. The team has lurched from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again often enough to induce whiplash.
Speaking of whiplash, on Monday, the Padres trailed the Rockies in Colorado until Trent Grisham tied the game with two outs in the top of the ninth. In the bottom of the inning, reliever Daniel Hudson, the only pitcher acquired at the trade deadline, delivered a slider to C.J. Cron that landed in the right-field seats. However, that disappointment couldn’t match Saturday’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, the worst team in the sport.
In the best-case scenario, the Padres hit bottom that night when an unknown pitcher named Tyler Gilbert no-hit the Padres in his first career start—ever. With his low 90s fastball, Gilbert relied on location and movement. He became the fourth pitcher in the history of Major League Baseball to achieve that feat in his first start, the others being Bobo Holloman (1953), Bumpus Jones (1892), and Theodore Breitenstein (1891). Last year Gilbert worked as an electrician, and the D-Backs picked him up in the Rule-5 draft in the offseason.
For a variety of reasons, this year’s Padres’ should be even better than the group that made it to the playoffs for the first time since 2006 when they were eliminated in the Division Series by the St. Louis Cardinals. In 2020 the team prevailed over the same club in the Wild Card Series 3-1 only to lose to the eventual winners of the World Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Injuries prevented pitchers Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet from starting against the Dodgers with predictable results.
No doubt encouraged by the mini playoff run, general manager AJ Preller geared up for this season by adding a triumvirate of starting pitchers–Yu Darvish, Musgrove, and Blake Snell. The team started the year with the deepest rotation in team history with the combination of those three heralded veterans, as well as Chris Paddack and a healthy Lamet. (About the latter, the words healthy and Lamet should no longer be used in the same sentence.)
Currently, Darvish, who gave up six hits and five earned runs in just 2.2 innings on August 12 in Arizona, is nursing a sore back, Chris Paddack an oblique strain, and Lamet a hip infection (a change of pace from his usual forearm issues.)
Even the return of one of the most exciting players in the sport, Fernando Tatis Jr., cannot guarantee success. Released from his third trip to IL, Tatis will have to learn a new position–right field, in the middle of a pennant race. In his first game back on August 15th, he hit two home runs and a single, scored three runs, and put up four RBIs.
Unfortunately, the excitement over the return of Tatis Jr. was dampened by the news that Darvish had indeed been placed on the IL. Unfortunately, the budding superstar can’t put this team on his back and carry it across the finish line.
At this point in this season, Padres fans have to wonder if 2020 was just a fluke in a pandemic-shortened season. Currently, the Padres can rely on one starting pitcher, Musgrove, to show up and give the team a chance. Although he’s had better, slightly better results recently, Snell sports a 4.86 ERA and continues to gift opposing hitters walks. Since late July, heralded prospect Ryan Weathers’ ERA has ballooned from 2.73 to 5.06. At the trade deadline, Preller’s trust in Weathers definitely played a part in his decision not to add another starting pitcher.
In a sure sign of desperation, the Padres recently picked up Jake Arrieta, who had been released by the Chicago Cubs, the fourth place in the Central Division with a record of 52-69. Arrieta no longer resembles the pitcher that won the National League CY Young award in 2015. Version 2.0 has a record of 5-11 and an ERA of 6.88.
Leading up to the season, the Padres had put together an enviable stable of pitching ponies just waiting in the wings, Weathers being one. And what about MacKenzie Gore? The pitcher of the future has become a forgotten man.
Manager Jayce Tingler has acknowledged that the team is “upset, frustrated and embarrassed.” The chances of reaching to playoffs continue to dwindle, as the Padres find themselves 11 games behind the division-leading San Francisco Giants and six behind the Dodgers for the Wild Card.
Despite the addition of the three heralded starting pitchers, Padres had to turn to workhorse Craig Stammen on Sunday to start the game, and another bullpen game has been planned for Tuesday with Matt Strahm.
While other teams loaded up at the trade deadline, Preller valued his remaining prospects too much to let them go. Unfortunately, the Los Angeles Dodgers pulled off a coup at the time, adding three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer and All-Star shortstop Trea Turner (the former Padres’ farmhand). The Padres will have to go head to head with both in the nine games remaining against the Dodgers this season.
On a positive note—at least the Padres didn’t add starting pitcher Trevor Bauer… Instead, the Dodgers picked him up—and put him down almost immediately. The 2020 Cy-Young award winner for the National League is currently under investigation for felony assault.