When he reflects on the 2020 season, manager Jayce Tingler often goes back to the scene outside Petco Park when the Padres defeated the Cardinals in the National League Wild Card Series to win their first postseason series in 22 years.
It was an eye-opening moment for Tingler, who saw the way the entire city of San Diego rallied around the Padres and savored their long-awaited rise to contention. The memory isn’t a complete salve for the disappointment of subsequently losing to the Dodgers in the NL Division Series, but it does fuel Tingler’s desire to reach greater heights in 2021, which will mark his second season at the helm of the Padres.
“A lot of the chatter and conversation we have is coming out of the Cardinals [series], Game 3, not really knowing what was going on outside the stadium, but then walking out and just seeing the city, the fans, lit up, and how many people showed up and the celebration,” Tingler said Friday during a Zoom call with reporters. “I think that that's got a chance to motivate us. We want an opportunity to do that again and go deeper.”
After finishing second in the NL West with a 37-23 record over the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, the Padres will head into next season with higher expectations and loftier goals. Does Tingler believe the Padres have the talent to enter '21 as legitimate World Series contenders?
“I've got a lot of confidence in the roster we currently have,” Tingler said. “Are we a World Series contender? I think that's going to be determined by a couple things. The growth of some of our players; certainly on the starting pitching side. The [Chris] Paddacks, the [Adrian] Morejons, the [Luis] Patiños, the [MacKenzie] Gores, the [Ryan] Weathers, the [Michel] Baezes, etc. If two or three of them take significant steps going forward, I think that'll be critical. And then just the overall improvement of all the guys. What are they doing in the offseason? Can they take steps in their game?
“With that being said, I think we know we're going to be adding, whether that's [via] trade, free agent, Minor League signings and things like that. It's tough to say because I know we're not a final product sitting here before Christmas.”
To reach the summit, the Padres will have to find a way to get past the Dodgers, the reigning World Series champions who have established a deep reservoir of talent that has transformed them into perennial contenders. The gap between the NL West rivals was clear during the NLDS, when the Dodgers swept the Padres in three games.
“They're really well-balanced,” Tingler said. “They were the class of baseball throughout the season and then for the postseason. I just think their overall depth was really good, and they just don't have many holes. They have really good starting pitching. Their at-bats are tough. If you throw ball one, ball two, they do a great job staying in the zone. A lot like us, they're very balanced one through nine. They played really good defense, and their bullpen guys stepped up, certainly down the stretch. We knew going into that last series that we had to play almost perfect baseball. Unfortunately, we didn't do that.”
Despite the success of this past season, the Padres recognize there’s work to do this offseason to bolster a roster headlined by shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. and third baseman Manny Machado. While the club has been relatively quiet thus far, general manager A.J. Preller continues to work the phones in an attempt to deepen a starting rotation that will be without the injured Mike Clevinger, and to fill holes in the bullpen and on the bench.
A few acquisitions are expected before next spring, but Tingler emphasized that the Padres will also need plenty of internal growth to sustain their competitiveness as well.
“We know that we made significant steps in 2020,” Tingler said, “There are a lot of positives to take away, but we know we still have a lot of work to do. We've got to improve in areas, so that's really where our focus is.”