September surge a bittersweet one for Padres

September 25th, 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.

Mathematically, the Padres aren't out of it just yet. But that reality mostly set in with Saturday's 11-inning loss to St. Louis, their 12th defeat in 12 extra-innings games this year.

It's not worth delving too deeply into the complexities of the Padres' elimination scenarios. They can be out of the playoff picture entirely as soon as Tuesday. Heck, the fact that we've even spent the past week discussing the outside chance at a playoff run -- after the way the first five months went -- should tell you all you need to know about the team's recent hot streak.

Before the Cubs swept the Rockies and prior to the Padres' season-long eight-game winning streak ending on Saturday, this thing actually got interesting. That's because, in no uncertain terms, the Padres are playing their best baseball of the season.

But what, exactly, does any of that mean, considering they're destined to fall short of their goal? What is a strong September worth, if it doesn't amount to much in October?

"I would say it's good for us," said Juan Soto, who has looked like peak Juan Soto during this run. "Even if we don't make it to the playoffs, it's going to feel great because we found our path. It's going to be good for next year. We're going to try to start in the same spot. Try to finish hot, then try to start hot next year."

That, of course, is the optimist's view. On the other hand, the Padres aren't masking their frustration that it took them as long as it did to start playing like the team they thought they could be.

"We grinded every day," Soto said. "It was pretty tough at the beginning to see how much talent we have in here, and we couldn't get it done. Just a matter of time. Right now, we got hot. Try to finish strong, see what happens."

Said Manny Machado: "We know how good we are and what we're capable of. We've shown it over the last week or so. We've shown spurts of it throughout the year. We just couldn't really put it together. For sure, we definitely underperformed as a group. We didn’t play to our best abilities. As a group, we’re better than that, and we know that."

They feel like they're proving it right now, too. The Padres’ 14-6 record this month is the best in baseball.

In a way, the team’s recent surge makes the season even more frustrating -- but they insist it’s better than the alternative, at least.

"I think it would be worse if we never found it," said Xander Bogaerts. "It's still bad it took so long. But at least we figured out what was in there, and we're kind of showing it right now. This is what everyone expected. This is what [we] expected to play like, this level of baseball."

Then, Bogaerts added the necessary qualifier.

"It's really tough," he said, "that it's this late."