OAKLAND -- All summer long, as the Padres toiled on the fringes of the National League Wild Card race, they called upon a familiar refrain: If they could just mount a run, they said, they would thrust themselves right back into playoff contention.
Early in the season, they claimed it was a matter of "when" not "if." Later in the year, it became a rallying cry. Yes, the standings looked bleak. But if they could just get hot …
Eventually, the losses piled up, and even that theoretical hot streak was no longer enough. The Padres have reached mid-September at the point where even a red-hot finish almost certainly won't get them into the playoff picture.
It completed the Padres’ first four-game winning streak of the season. They were the lone remaining team in the Majors yet to reach that mark. Coming off a series victory over the Dodgers in Los Angeles, the Padres are truly playing some of their best baseball of the year, and barring a miracle finish, it seems destined to go for naught.
“More than anything, it’s just getting what’s been a problem for us all year off our back,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said. “We’ve got to keep going and win more than four in a row.”
When the Padres arrived in Oakland on Friday, a throng of reporters met Melvin, eager to ask about his time as A’s manager and his return to the Coliseum. Eventually those questions turned to his current team, these perplexing Padres.
At long last, they have their four-game winning streak. But they’re still searching for their first win in extra innings. They’re still 6-22 in one-run games. The Padres boast a +77 run differential that qualifies as fourth-best in the NL, with the league’s 10th-best record.
Melvin was asked what he made of it all and what he expected from his team down the stretch this season.
“There were a lot of expectations here, and we haven't lived up to them,” Melvin said. “We've got to continue to play hard and try to win as many games as we can. We’re not eliminated at this point. We’d have to basically run the table, but as long as that carrot’s still out there, it’s our job to go out there and play the best baseball we possibly can.”
If that sentiment sounds too optimistic and perhaps even foolhardy, it shouldn’t be read that way. Melvin wasn’t forecasting a long undefeated streak that would carry the Padres to the postseason. But so long as it was at least mathematically possible, they needed to play like it.
And now? Well, they’ve won four straight. Twelve to go.
“We have to win ‘em,” Melvin said Sunday. “… We’ve gotten the monkey off our back with the [fourth win]. Hopefully, we can continue that, because that’s what it’s going to take.”
And, to be perfectly clear, even winning out might not be enough. The Padres trail by six games for the final Wild Card spot with 12 to play. Needing to jump four teams in those standings, they’d need to pull off a miracle run and get lots of help.
Which, again, isn’t necessarily the point. The Padres sure aren’t counting games in the playoff race right now.
“It’s just: Keep grinding,” Soto said. “Forget about the records, forget about the numbers, forget about everything. Just go out there and perform. That’s the only thing we can control right now. Play every day, play hard, and see what happens.”
Soto did his part on Sunday, launching a pair of no-doubters, his 31st and 32nd home runs of the season. His eighth-inning grand slam earned him a postgame celebration in which his teammates doused him with beer, Gatorade and all manner of clubhouse liquids.
Afterward, when Soto had showered, dressed and packed, he met reporters with a smile on his face. The Padres were headed home after a 6-3 trip through Houston, L.A. and Oakland.
“It was a long road trip,” Soto said. “Two great series, one that was a little tumble with Houston, but it was a great road trip and a great [way] to go back home.”