SAN DIEGO -- In 52 seasons, no team in Padres history has lifted the World Series trophy. Whichever Padres team ultimately snaps that drought will ascend to the top of this list. In the meantime, these are the five best seasons in franchise history:
The 1998 Padres ran into one of the greatest juggernauts in baseball history, losing to the Yankees in the Fall Classic in four games. In a different year, however, this group might have staked a different World Series claim. The ’98 Padres were loaded, featuring Trevor Hoffman and Kevin Brown at their absolute peaks and a collection of offensive superstars -- from Tony Gwynn to Ken Caminiti to Greg Vaughn, who set a franchise record with 50 home runs that season. The '98 Padres dispatched two 100-win teams to take the National League pennant -- first the Astros in four games, then the Braves in six. The '98 Padres set the bar as the greatest team in franchise history.
The first Padres team to break through and reach the postseason also authored the most dramatic playoff victory in franchise history. After falling behind two games to none in the best-of-five 1984 NL Championship Series, the Padres stormed back to beat the Cubs on the strength of a walk-off home run by Steve Garvey in Game 4 and a late rally in Game 5. Gwynn's go-ahead double proved decisive. San Diego lost in the World Series to another all-time powerhouse -- the ‘84 Tigers. But the Padres’ ’84 breakthrough was an important moment in the history of the franchise and the city.
The 1998 season is fondly remembered as the best in Padres history, but it was the '96 team that set the stage for that group, winning the NL West in dramatic fashion with a sweep of the Dodgers on the season's final weekend. The '96 Padres saw the usual otherworldly exploits from Gwynn (.353/.400/.441), a unanimous NL MVP Award from Caminiti and the first truly dominant Hoffman campaign. It was a special group that often gets overlooked because the Padres were swept by St. Louis in the NL Division Series.
Considering the nature of the season -- shortened by 102 games because of the COVID-19 pandemic -- it’s difficult to compare the 2020 Padres to some other teams in franchise history. The '20 club posted the best Padres winning percentage of all time, but the sample size was smaller and the circumstances unlike any other. Ultimately, the Padres finished with the second-best record in the NL and third-best overall. In a three-game Wild Card round, they came from behind to beat the Cardinals, only to be swept by the eventual-champion Dodgers in the NLDS -- a series that might have played out differently had starting pitchers Dinelson Lamet and Mike Clevinger not gone down to injury.
There are arguments to be made that the Padres were better in 2007 and '10 -- but those clubs’ late-season collapses rule them out for the purposes of this list. The ’06 team -- led by Jake Peavy, Adrián González, Chris Young and Khalil Greene -- cruised to a playoff berth and clinched a second consecutive NL West title on the season's final day. Ultimately, the Padres ran into an upstart Cardinals team that pulled off a trio of upsets en route to a World Series championship. St. Louis beat San Diego in four games in the NLDS.