SAN DIEGO -- Here's a relatively surprising development considering all that went wrong for San Diego in the first half: The All-Star break arrived on Sunday afternoon, and the Padres greeted it feeling largely optimistic about where things stand.
The first half wasn't what they hoped it might be. Not even close. But at the tail end of it, the Padres at least provided reason to believe that things might be different in the second.
It capped a 5-1 homestand and a roller coaster of a first half in which the Padres went 43-47. They sit six games out of the playoff picture, well below expectations for a team that entered the season with World Series ambitions -- yet a marked improvement from a week ago.
“Continue doing this, day by day,” Machado said. “When we do that and we all come together as a group, like we’ve been doing this last week or so, we’re a dangerous team. We know we’re capable of it. … Enjoy this, and keep this feeling for the second half.”
Last Sunday night, the Padres arrived home following what manager Bob Melvin called “a miserable trip” through Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. They’d won once in six games, and their season felt like it was on the brink. The idea of San Diego as a Trade Deadline seller suddenly wasn’t all that far-fetched.
And then… hope. The Padres swept the Angels. They came out on top in a ballyhooed showdown with the Mets, another big spender trying to find traction heading into the second half.
“There’s a lot left; there’s a lot of baseball that’s got to be played,” Machado said. “We’ve just got to continue the baseball we’ve been playing this past week.”
Perhaps it was fitting that Machado took center stage in the first-half finale. So often, it seems that as Machado goes, so go the Padres.
And, like the Padres, Machado scuffled early this season, before offering ample reason for optimism at the end of the first half. He entered July with a .678 OPS, 151 points below his career average. In July? That number is 1.472.
“He’s starting to find his groove,” Musgrove said. “His confidence is in a really good spot, and he’s every bit the leader of this team. Everyone’s kind of following his lead.”
Musgrove, too, endured a stop-and-start first half. He opened the year on the injured list with a broken toe. It wasn’t until recently that Musgrove started to look like the dominant version of himself that stymied New York in the postseason last October (even amid an impromptu sticky-stuff check initiated by Mets manager Buck Showalter).
Back then, the Padres were a swaggering bunch, undaunted by the prospect of facing a 101-win Mets team in New York. They proceeded to dispatch the 111-win division-rival Dodgers in the following round, too.
For the most part, this year’s Padres haven’t resembled a team capable of making a deep October run. And yet, it’s largely the same group, with a couple very notable additions in Xander Bogaerts and Fernando Tatis Jr.
“We’ve just got to win,” Tatis said. “Coming together as a ballclub, just repeat what we did this week. This shows what we’re capable of.”
There’s no soft landing in the second half. The Padres open with four games in three days at Philadelphia, the site of last October’s playoff exit. The Phillies currently sit 5 1/2 games ahead of San Diego in the Wild Card race. Given the current standings, it’s hard to envision room for both in the postseason.
A zero-sum series -- those are the practical stakes. But the importance of next weekend may be even larger than that. It took the Padres until the final week of the first half to play like the contenders they feel they are. The second half needs to be different, and a weekend in Philadelphia marks the perfect opportunity to deliver a statement of intent.
“Like I told everybody: ‘Get your minds right for the second half,’” Machado said. “Because it isn’t going to be easy. But we’re going to be ready for it.”
Said Musgrove: “We know what we’re getting into. And I think everyone is excited about the opportunity to kind of prove everyone wrong.”