With eight weeks left of the regular Major League Baseball season, the San Diego Padres have plenty of time to catch up in the division and cement their position in the Wild Card race.
Don’t look back, though, as the red-hot Cincinnati Reds are breathing down their necks for that final wild card, having won their last four games and eight of the last 10. The Padres will have to overcome both injuries and confounding inconsistencies to power through the stretch run.
The Padres have held their own against the leaders in the National League West, having gone 4-5 against the San Francisco Giants and 7-3 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. However, the team has underperformed against sub .500 teams, including the bottom feeders in the division, the Colorado Rockies, and the Arizona Diamondbacks. The latter just happens to have the worst record in all of baseball and should be easy pickings. Instead, the Padres have a 6-4 record against the D-Backs and 8-8 against the Rockies.
Current Padre’s ownership has given general manager A.J. Preller a long leash. The payroll has reached heights never imagined in Padre land. San Diego’s 26-man payroll of $152 million is second to the Los Angeles Dodgers at $169 million. In total payroll, the Dodgers also lead at $267 million while the Padres’ $176 million ranks eighth.
At the trade deadline, Preller couldn’t pull off any deals to fill their most glaring need: starting pitchers. Instead of adding sought-after pitchers Max Scherzer or Jose Berrios, the Padres acquired outfielder Jake Marisnick, pitcher Daniel Hudson, and second baseman/outfielder Adam Frazier. Compounding the pitching issues, starter Chris Paddack recently sustained an oblique injury. The off-injured Dinelson Lamet has started throwing again but will most likely work in relief when he returns.
Actually, the fact that the Padres even sought a starting pitcher (or two) defied all expectations. In the offseason, Preller dramatically upgraded the rotation and added substantially to the payroll, especially with the adjusted salaries for Yu Darvish ($19 million) and Blake Snell ($11 million). Darvish, Blake, and Joe Musgrove (who pitched the first no-hitter in team history in April) performed according to expectations early on. However, starter ERA has gone the wrong direction each month:
April 2.67 (4th)
June 4.41 (16th)
July 6.21 (28th)
In a hopeful sign, Darvish returned to his earlier form and dominated the D-Backs in his latest outing. In seven strong innings, Arizona collected 12 strikeouts and just four hits. That performance should help wipe out the memory of Darvish’s five starts in July, in which his ERA ballooned to 7.36.
Blake Snell followed in Darvish’s footsteps, lasting seven innings with career-high 13 strikeouts and giving up just two hits in a 2-0 shutout against the Diamondbacks. He has been trying to recapture the dominance that led to his American League Cy Young award in 2018. In San Diego, before this start, he had been a puzzling disappointment with his ERA of 5.24, a WHIP of 1.623, and ERA+ of 72.
The Padres also welcomed the return of catcher Austin Nola, who had appeared in just 28 games this year. The team can certainly use his bat, and it also takes the pressure off Victor Caratini. In an admittedly small sample size, Nola has batted .292/.404/.389/.793 with an OPS+ of 124.
During the trade deadline, Preller also tried but failed to rid the Padres of a particular weight dragging the Padres down—Eric Hosmer’s contract. The team owes 31-year-old Hosmer $59 million for three more seasons. After 2022 Hosmer can veto any trade.
Adding to the team’s woes, Fernando Tatis Jr. yet again clutched his shoulder, winced, and left a game, this time against the Colorado Rockies on Saturday, July 31- a game the Padres ended up losing 5-3 loss. At the time of the injury, manager Jayce Tingler admitted that a worst-case scenario–season-ending surgery–had not been ruled out. The team has also considered moving Tatis Jr. to center field, which would displace Trent Grisham, who has been one of the more valuable players this year and frankly suggests desperation.
Following last year’s playoff run, pundits valued the Padres highly in the lead up to the 2021 season. According to current prognostications, however, San Diego has slipped from the top four or five teams:
5 White Sox
7 Red Sox
4 White Sox
7 Red Sox
Inevitably, the chances of the Padres reaching the playoffs this year have also been downgraded.
White Sox 98.1
Tampa Bay 91.8
San Diego 79.4
World Series projections
White Sox 9.0
San Diego 6.9
Notably missing in the top six is the team currently leading the National League West, the San Francisco Giants, with a World Series projection of just 4.5. Not valued highly at the beginning of the season, the Giants currently lead all of baseball in wins with 69, a .627 winning percentage.
Despite the current woes, the Padres have not rolled over and played dead. The team survived the grueling schedule during the earlier months of the season, and the stretch run will be much less demanding.
In the end, Padres’ fate rests in their own hands. The team will face off against the Dodgers and the Giants multiple times in the remainder of the season. In fact, the final two weeks include a three-game series against the Giants in Petco Park and a trip to Dodger Stadium for the final three games of the 2021 regular season.