SAN DIEGO -- This isn't how the Padres envisioned it ending. More specifically, this isn't when they envisioned it ending.
The Padres' 2021 playoff hopes ended just the same with a 10-8 loss to Atlanta in 10 innings on Saturday night at Petco Park. With seven games remaining, the Padres trail the Cardinals by eight games in the race for the second National League Wild Card spot -- cold hard math that officially eliminates San Diego from postseason contention.
A season that began with World Series aspirations ultimately was derailed by ... well ... where to begin?
The underperforming roster? The injuries? The lack of depth and an inability of the front office to reinforce that depth? It all played a part.
“You can’t pinpoint any one thing,” said Padres third baseman Manny Machado. “It’s a long season. A lot of things happened. We didn’t play good baseball, and we got injured.”
The Padres entered the season with dreams of the franchise's first World Series title -- and for the first time in recent memory, those dreams felt reasonable enough. Instead, they’ll end their season not only without a World Series but without a spot in the playoffs for the 14th time in 15 years. The abbreviated 2020 season stands as the lone exception.
"It's definitely tough," said outfielder Wil Myers, a Padre since 2015. "You have seven years of it, and you have a season where you're like, ‘Wow this is the one.’ And then to be in the same spot again here late in the season, it's almost sickening a little bit, just to see it unfold. It's frustrating, for sure. I thought this was the year we'd get going and really start to roll. That wasn't the case. And we're here now."
How, exactly, did they get here? For most of the season, an ending like this felt unfathomable. The Padres won nine straight and had the best record in baseball in late May. They swept the Dodgers and won eight straight in June, eyeing a division title. They led by seven games in the Wild Card race in July.
Then it crumbled on them. The Wild Card lead dwindled in August, as the Padres dealt with a spate of pitching injuries. Those injuries were only exacerbated by the fact the team’s front office passed on adding starting pitching at the Trade Deadline. And while all that took place, the Padres’ offense picked the worst time to go into a funk.
“We did not reach our goal this year,” Machado said. “We’re going to come back next year hungrier. … We fell short. That’s all that matters, and we’re all down about it. We were expecting something. It didn’t happen.”
The Padres' hopes were dashed in September. But their season was truly derailed in August. Amid the soft underbelly of their schedule, the Padres struggled to win series against the sub-.500 Rockies, D-backs, Marlins and Angels.
That was the portion of their season in which the Padres were supposed to add separation in a Wild Card race they led comfortably. Instead, the gap closed, and they found themselves locked in a battle with half a dozen teams as they opened a brutal September slate. Since Aug. 10, the Padres’ 11-28 record is the worst in the National League.
“It's definitely frustrating to go through that,” Myers said. “Especially with the expectations -- and really the reality we felt we were in -- of making the playoffs.”
The Padres have done their best to avoid using the injuries excuse. But it’s impossible to avoid -- especially in the rotation. Chris Paddack, Yu Darvish and Blake Snell all spent significant time on the injured list this year. Dinelson Lamet moved to the bullpen after elbow trouble prompted four separate IL stints. Mike Clevinger, Adrian Morejon and Michel Baez missed the season because of Tommy John surgery. It doesn’t stop in the rotation either, as key bullpen and offensive pieces missed time, too.
“All teams are dealing with injuries,” said Padres manager Jayce Tingler. “At the end of the day, we didn’t play good enough, certainly in the second part of the season, to get in. And we had opportunities.”
For much of September, the Padres hung around. Then, the Cardinals got red hot, reeling off their current streak of 15 straight wins, including three over San Diego last weekend. The Padres readily admit they should never have put themselves in a situation to be overtaken. But when they were overtaken, they were overtaken quickly.
“It's pretty wild, man, just to see what [the Cardinals] did, the way they've played, and to see what we did as well, to more or less blow it a little bit,” Myers said. “It's pretty crazy.”
Indeed. A season with hopes of a World Series fizzled before October. An eventful offseason assuredly awaits.