Padres' late success crucial for future

September 28th, 2023

This story was excerpted from AJ Cassavell’s Padres Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Last week, when a rare one-run victory followed a rare walk-off victory, Padres manager Bob Melvin opened his postgame press conference with a thought:

“Walk-off last night and a one-run win today,” Melvin said with a smile. “Next thing you know, we’ll win an extra-inning game.”


At long last, the Padres earned their first extra-inning win of the season on Wednesday, beating the Giants 5-2 at Oracle Park and they remained alive mathematically in the playoff race. At 1-12 in extras, they avoided an unwanted bit of history as the first team to go 0-13. The 1969 Montreal Expos again stand alone at 0-12.

What does it all mean?

The way I see it, more than anything else, it’s another indication that things have changed in the Padres clubhouse. They own the sport’s best record in September at 17-7. And they’re winning precisely the games they’d lost for five months.

Consider the nature of Wednesday’s 10th inning: Brett Sullivan got the runner over with a grounder to second. Xander Bogaerts got the runner in with a sacrifice fly. The Padres did what they were supposed to. Then, when two Giants errors presented them with an opening, Manny Machado took advantage of it. He shortened up and battled with two strikes, before lifting the game’s decisive hit to left-center, a two-run single.

“That,” said Melvin, “is how you win extra-inning games.”

It’s not worth putting much stock into the Padres’ playoff chances. The odds are astronomical.

Yes, it’s fun to follow, and clearly, the players have embraced the fact that they’re mathematically alive. Considering where things stood at the start of the month, it’s an achievement that the Padres even reached their final off-day of the season with a pulse.

But, heck, depending on when you’re reading this, those playoff hopes might already have been extinguished. A Cubs or a Marlins win today, and the Padres would be out of contention before they even take the field Friday.

Machado is among those tuned into the intricacies of the team’s playoff chances. As DH, he even stole away to watch the end of the Braves-Cubs game in the batting cage last night. He plans to spend his off-day watching Marlins-Mets and Cubs-Braves.

This, of course, only proves the point that the Padres control very little. Namely: They can win three games against the White Sox this weekend and finish with a winning record.

“Our goal right now is to try to finish above .500,” Machado said. “After the year we’ve had, let’s just finish strong. Ultimately that’s the biggest goal: finish the season off on a high note. That will lead to good things.”

I don’t know whether that’s true. I know the vibes in the Padres dugout are good all of a sudden. But the vibes were miserable down the stretch in 2021. And the team still made a run to the NLCS the following season.

I also know that one good month shouldn’t wipe away five bad ones. Materially, something needs to change entering the 2024 season, whether the Padres finish above .500 or not.

So, no, I’m not sure what to make of this late-season run. And I’m not sure what it would mean if they finished above .500. Neither are they.

“We wanted something more than that,” said Bogaerts. “We were trying to go for something a little unheard of, ending the season with a winning streak like that. But in the end, all that we’ve been through this year, I think a winning record has its meaning. … If we don’t make it, at least we proved to ourselves that we’re better than what we [were].”