LOS ANGELES -- Max Scherzer could've been a Padre for the stretch run this season. Instead, he spent a sunny September afternoon in Los Angeles making history and chasing perfection against them, in what qualifies as the cruelest twist yet in San Diego’s second-half fall from grace.
In the Padres’ 8-0 loss at Dodger Stadium on Sunday, Scherzer carried a perfect game into the eighth inning until Eric Hosmer broke it up with a clean double. Nonetheless, the Dodgers right-hander recorded an immaculate second inning – striking out the side on nine pitches -- and became the 19th player in Major League history to record 3,000 strikeouts with his punchout of Hosmer in the fifth.
Making things worse for San Diego, left-hander Blake Snell exited in the first inning with what manager Jayce Tingler called left adductor tightness. Tingler added that Snell is day to day and will be re-evaluated in San Francisco this week before the team determines whether he’ll make his scheduled start in St. Louis on Friday night.
“It’s something he’s dealt with in the past,” Tingler said. “It usually doesn’t come on until the sixth or the seventh inning. For whatever reason, today it tightened up on him early.”
If Snell were to miss any further time, it would be a particularly brutal twist, considering he had been one of very few standout Padres in recent weeks. San Diego has gone just 14-23 since missing out on Scherzer at the Trade Deadline -- a clear turning point in a roller-coaster season that, right now, is very much on the downswing.
No doubt, the Padres could’ve used that type of rotation boost at the Deadline. But their recent performance can’t solely be chalked up to the fact they missed out on one starting pitcher. Their offense has floundered, shut out in three of the past five games. Their bullpen, one of the best in baseball in the first half of the season, has become awfully leaky.
“We definitely need to play better,” said Tingler. “But we’ve got the guys to do it. We’ve said that all along. The belief is still there. And with 19 1/2 games to go [including completion of a suspended game], we’ve got to go out and take it. There’s not much more to say, except we’ve got to play better.
“It’s probably been our low point. But we’ve got a chance to turn that around. Nothing’s going to matter about this pocket if we can go out and play well these next three weeks.”
As Tingler alluded to, the Padres -- despite their recent poor performance, despite the injuries that are suddenly piling up -- currently occupy a place in the postseason. The Reds lost on Sunday in St. Louis, leaving San Diego and Cincinnati in a virtual tie for the National League’s second Wild Card spot, with the Cardinals lurking a game back. The Padres, having played two fewer games than the Reds, lead the race by percentage points and by a game in the loss column.
“As poor as we’ve played … we’re still in this,” Tingler said. “We’ve got to play better. We’ve got to play better on all cylinders. But it’s right there in front of us.”
For the Padres to reach the postseason, however, it would take quite a turnaround, considering their remaining schedule. Their path to the postseason is easily the trickiest of the three primary contenders for the final spot. All 20 of their remaining games are against teams with winning records, including the conclusion of their suspended game against the Braves.
Consider this: The Padres are now headed to San Francisco for a four-game series beginning Monday night. It’s the first of three series remaining against the Giants, who boast the Majors’ best record at 93-50. While they’re playing each of those three series, the Reds will be playing three series against the NL Central’s last-place club, the Pirates (52-91).
Then again, the Padres insist it’s none of their business to be worrying about the Reds’ opposition -- or, for that matter, how poorly they’ve been playing themselves.
“We just have to have short memories,” said Padres catcher Austin Nola. “That’s it. We’ve got to get ready to go play tomorrow. We’ve still got a lot of baseball left, against a lot of good teams. We wouldn’t want it any other way than to be still in the fight.”
Still in the fight, sure, though lately they’ve been the ones taking most of the punches.