The San Diego Padres are poised to make a splash this season.
2020 is unlike any year in recent memory, especially when it comes to sports. The coronavirus has forced sports all over the world to rethink their formats to assure a safe and unfortunately, shortened, season.
Major League Baseball is no different. Now that ugly labor disputes are in the rear-view mirror (for now), it’s time to look ahead to a 60-game season, starting July 23.
The format for the season is also unlike any other season before in baseball history, given that teams will play more than 100 games less than normal.
First, in scheduling, teams will focus play on their regional rivals in each league. Thus, the Padres will square off mainly against their division rivals as well as opponents in the American League West, to reduce travel and exposure. Each team will play 10 games against its division and the remaining games will be spread out among their American League West counterparts.
This might be the toughest part of the shortened season format for San Diego, as the National League West is typically highly competitive and the Padres have not enjoyed a winning season within the division since 2010.
The number of games favors the Friars. If the 2019 season was played under the same limitations, the Padres would have finished 31-29, their first winning season since 2010, and just one game short of the Wild Card Game. In other words, a 60-game schedule puts the Padres in the heat of the playoff race.
Last season, the squad got off to a good start thanks to the breakout rookie season of Fernando Tatis Jr. However, the shortstop only played in 27 of San Diego’s first 60 games, with a .300 batting average, six home runs, and a .910 OPS. Imagine if he had been healthy enough to play closer to 60 games, the Friars likely would have had a stellar record and been in a playoff spot.
Chris Paddack was just coming into his own in the first two months of the season, with a 2.40 ERA in 10 starts in the squad’s first 60 contests.
The 2020 club looks even more improved, especially on the pitching side. Many expect Dinelson Lamet to reach new heights, now a year removed from Tommy John surgery. He did not appear in a game last year until nearly the All-Star break, well past the 60-game mark. In his shortened season, he posted a 4.07 ERA, a 1.3 fWAR, and a sparkling 12.95 strikeouts per nine innings.
Another hurler who was still on the mend early last year who looks to make a splash in 2020 is Garrett Richards. Some think he will be towards the top of the rotation this season, now almost two years removed from the same major surgery as Lamet.
Richards has always struggled with health, but when he is at the top of his game, he is one of the most solid pitchers in any rotation. The last time he had a clean bill of health for an entire season was in 2014 and 2015, where he had a combined 3.18 ERA in 58 starts with a 116 ERA+ and 6.4 WAR.
The Friars are about to play 60 games in 65 days. The designated hitter is coming to the National League at a great time for the club. The DH is beneficial even if they just want to use it as a way to get everyday players off of their feet for a game or two during this two-month sprint of a season. However, players like Josh Naylor, Ty France, Franchy Cordero, and Wil Myers would benefit greatly from being a DH the majority of the time, with their limitations on defense. This could be a good time to get some prospects some at-bats as well, with the minor league season axed.
There is a lot that can go right and wrong very quickly when every game means the same as three during a normal season.
FanGraphs pens the Padres with a 34.8 percent chance to make the playoffs. For reference, they had the Friars just at 12.9 percent ahead of the 2019 season.
The Padres are capable of playing as well or even better than they did during the first 60 games of last season. If they can catch lightning in a bottle in 2020 and if the injury bug (as well as a big, bad virus) stays away, this team is capable of making the playoffs.