Fourth time’s the charm.
After three first-round exits at the hands of the Cardinals, the Padres finally returned the favor, winning their National League Wild Card Series two games to one.
Here are five things we learned from a three-game set that was equal parts grueling and exhilarating:
1. Tatis is up for the moment
Fernando Tatis Jr. sure didn't look like a 21-year-old making his first postseason appearance.
The shortstop phenom came to the plate 14 times, and he reached base in eight of them, including two homers Thursday and a crucial double Friday in the decisive Game 3.
Tatis did make what could have been a costly throwing error on Friday, but he also made a pair of spectacular plays at shortstop.
"First time in the playoffs," Tatis said. "You're going to feel that spark inside you, no matter what."
Paddack, meanwhile, was roughed up by Los Angeles on Aug. 13, allowing six runs, including three homers, in three innings. Since then, Paddack has made eight starts with a 5.80 ERA. After Paddack's Game 1 start against St. Louis, Padres manager Jayce Tingler indicated Paddack would get another if the Padres advanced.
"He doesn’t need to be left with that," Tingler said. "We need to get him the ball again."
That's still only two rotation spots filled. If Lamet and Clevinger remain sidelined, it's worth wondering whether Garrett Richards and/or Adrian Morejon would get another look in a starting capacity. They were excellent out of the bullpen in the Wild Card Series. But the Padres' bullpen is already extraordinarily deep. The rotation might be where they're needed most.
3. Nola is just what the Padres needed
Remember when the Padres had to decide between an excellent defender (Austin Hedges) and a high-upside bat ( Francisco Mejía)?
They found both in Austin Nola.
Acquired from Seattle just before the Trade Deadline, Nola was the unsung hero of the Padres' Wild Card Series victory. He caught 13 different pitchers and extracted the most out of them behind the plate. Players and staff raved about his performance.
"He's an impressive man, can take in a whole lot of information and I love him to death," said Padres right-hander Craig Stammen. "He's a wall back there and gives us so much confidence when we're pitching to him. He's made us such a great team."
Don't discount what Nola does at the plate, either. He went hitless in the Wild Card Series. But he walked three times Thursday in the come-from-behind Game 2 win, routinely wearing out opposing pitchers. He was on base for both of Tatis' home runs.
The two veterans struggled after landing in San Diego via trade. Pham arrived in the offseason but dealt with a handful of injuries and posted just a .624 OPS. Moreland came over at the Deadline and notched a .609 mark.
Yet Pham started all three games against St. Louis and went 6-for-13. Moreland started the final two and was 3-for-6 while frustrating the Cardinals’ two righty starters.
After the Game 3 victory, first baseman Eric Hosmer had huge praise to offer for Pham, who returned from left hamate bone surgery in mid-September. Hosmer indicated that Pham probably wasn't yet back to full strength but he desperately wanted to find a groove before the postseason.
"He comes back at the end of the regular season, gets at-bats in, sacrifices his numbers during the regular season to be ready for the postseason, comes out against his old team and was just barreling all types of balls," Hosmer said. "He really stepped up for us this series, had a lot of big knocks. It just shows the character of all these guys. These guys know what's on the line."
5. The bench might be reworked
The emergence of Pham and Moreland means Jurickson Profar assumes a spot on the bench against right-handed pitching. He's quite useful in that role.
"Outfield, infield, switch-hitting, good baserunner -- it gives us some flexibility late in a game," Tingler said.
As the backup catcher, Castro still has a spot. Mateo, as a pinch-running threat, probably has one, too. But there are no pinch-hitting opportunities in the Padres' lineup right now. The Padres seem content to ride with their starting nine, plus Profar.
Knowing that, team decision-makers will mull whether the final bench spot or two would be better spent on pitching depth.