CHICAGO -- The Padres took it all the way to the season’s final weekend. They scraped and clawed and have posted the sport’s best record this month, as they worked their way back to the fringes of the playoff race.
But on Friday night, it became official: The most highly anticipated season in Padres history will end without postseason baseball.
With the Marlins’ come-from-behind win over the Pirates in Pittsburgh, San Diego was officially eliminated from playoff contention on Friday. The Padres proceeded to finish off a 3-2 victory over the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field, improving to .500 for the first time since May 11. But Miami’s win was its 83rd of the year, a number the 80-80 Padres cannot reach.
“We know that we had a tough year,” said Padres manager Bob Melvin. “And we know that we left a lot on the table.”
There’s no better evidence of that than the team’s torrid final month. The Padres are 18-7 in September. They recently reeled off a season-high eight-game winning streak. But one good month wasn’t enough to mask five months of underperformance.
“We've just got to play this baseball every single day for six months,” said third baseman Manny Machado. “Come out strong from the beginning. That's what everyone in here these last couple weeks has been thinking about. We could've been doing this all year.
“We're going to do this next year. We're going to come back and come back with a vengeance. Everyone in here is obviously let down by the season. But we know that we're better than this. We're going to come back next year, and we're going to be a lot better.”
The clubhouse remained closed slightly longer than usual after the game for a brief team meeting. Machado spoke and, presumably, offered a message similar to that one. As disappointing as the Padres’ 2023 season was, he insists there are lessons to take from it.
“It's frustrating, obviously,” Machado said. “We knew the capabilities that we had all year, and we just couldn't get it going. It's something that we can definitely build on. … Learn from all the mistakes all year, and try to get better for next year.”
Ultimately, the Padres' 2023 season will go down as one of the most confounding in recent memory. They boasted a roster loaded with superstars -- and many of those superstars performed like it. Blake Snell is the NL Cy Young Award favorite. Juan Soto and Ha-Seong Kim will receive down-ballot MVP votes. Josh Hader has been perhaps the best closer in baseball. San Diego has outscored its opposition by 98 runs, the third-best mark in the NL.
The Padres are just 8-23 in one-run games. Their win over the Giants on Wednesday was their first in extra innings this season. They were previously 0-12 in extras, tied with the 1969 Expos for the worst mark in MLB history to start a season. Their failures in close games, whatever the reason, led them to this moment.
“I feel like the pressure of the first months, it was getting to us, trying to execute, trying to make it happen,” said Fernando Tatis Jr. “At the end of the last month, we said, ‘... Let’s go out there and play baseball, and let’s see what happens.’”
What happened was a near-miracle run back into contention. The Padres were 11 games below .500 and 8 1/2 games out of a playoff spot entering September. Then they got red-hot, and the contenders above them struggled just enough to give the Padres a sliver of hope.
“Honestly, we were just trying to win games,” Melvin said. “We knew it was long odds. But now you get down to the last three games of the year, and maybe there’s even a little bit more hope. With the [Mets-Marlins game suspended on Thursday] it felt like maybe things were swinging our way. But, unfortunately, that’s not the case.”
When the Padres’ team meeting finished, players dispersed and light music played -- the same playlist after most victories, just maybe a touch quieter. Players ate dinner and joked, though the room got briefly quiet when a TV played highlights of the Marlins’ win on MLB Network.
“Obviously, we knew it was going to come down to this,” Machado said later. “And fate wasn’t on us. We’re going to keep fighting these last two games and finish on a strong note.”
Then their offseason gets underway. It’ll assuredly be a busy one. After all, it’s starting far sooner than they ever anticipated.