One of the many things about the expanded playoffs in MLB is that a team doesn’t have to be good for six months. Or really even three. Put two good months together and a team can probably Forrest Gump their way into the dance. It’s what the Phillies did last year, after all. That’s what the San Diego Padres must be hoping at the moment, because the first three months of this season have been a balls-up.
Last night, the Padres lost their third straight to division rival San Francisco last night, dropping them four games under .500 at 35-39. It was their fifth loss in seven games, which happens over a long season. The problem is that while the Padres may have been able to lope along to a playoff spot last year in the NL West barely visible in the rearview of the Los Angeles Dodgers, their division is far more serious this time around. The loss moved the Padres seven games behind the Giants, 9.5 behind the division-leading Diamondbacks, and six behind the Dodgers for the third wildcard. They’re also seven behind the Marlins for another wildcard spot, and three behind the Phillies in the chasing pack. They’re hanging around with the Mets out behind the bleachers, smoking stolen cigarettes, and talking about all the girls they never kissed.
While the Padres certainly have created the most amount of headlines in building their team, when a front office goes HAM with the owner’s checkbook it kind of is expected that the stars they pay for either through cash or players traded will perform like stars. The way the Padres are built, they can’t really afford any dips from the top of the roster.
Well, they’ve gotten them. Manny Machado has been awful and hurt, and then hurt and awful. Xander Bogaerts had a terrific April, and then a May that the video of is behind a black curtain at the store. Fernando Tatis Jr. obviously missed the first few weeks of the season thanks to his PED suspension.
Which would be fine if the supporting beams of the roster were trusty. They haven’t been. Jake Cronenworth’s power has declined every year he’s been in the Majors, and now he’d have to hitch a ride to punch-and-judy land. Who could have guessed that Matt Carpenter would look like charred remains without getting a month or two to take aim at the Wiffle ball dimensions of Yankee Stadium’s right field? Oh, that’s right, everyone. Trent Grisham was glove-only last year and remains pretty much the same this year, just with a worse glove. The catching spot is depending on Gary Sanchez. Depending on Gary Sanchez is the hallmark of the truly desperate and lost.
The Padres have spent so much time with their head in the clouds chasing the biggest names they seemingly forgot, or just totally whiffed, on the next level of the roster. There isn’t much cash left for the rest of it. They haven’t produced any players, other than Tatis, to fill in those holes. It’s fine to make the big splashes, but if a team is going to not be able to fill in the gaps through their own system, then you end up where San Diego is.
There are still signs of hope. The rotation and bullpen have both been top 10 units, and that’s with Yu Darvish being pretty wonky. At some point, all of the glitterati will fire at the same time, and you could easily see the Padres ripping off 10 in a row or 12 of 14 as the Giants or Diamondbacks have previously. The Giants are a bit smoke-and-mirrors at the moment too. The Diamondbacks are filled with players who are here for the first time.
Still, the point of forgetting the brakes in free agency or through trades isn’t to win 87 games and sneak your way in. This is still a team that hasn’t won 90 games in 13 years. And certainly other owners are rooting for the Padres to never get there, gloating about how they can get to 86 wins without a $246 million payroll (and probably Rob Manfred too). Getting pretty close to the time for the Padres to kick this pig.
Over to MLS last night, and strange things happen in a lot of leagues when there’s a set of midweek night games. Like Philly Union’s Jose Martinez scoring his first-ever MLS goal with a sound cannon:
Thing might have offset the Earth’s axis.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate.