Padres' magic number dwindles to 3 despite labors vs. LA

SD drops series to NL West rival but moves ever closer to Wild Card berth

September 30th, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- Here’s a harsh reality of the Padres’ 2022 season: They played six regular-season series against the Dodgers. And they lost all six. 

The last of those came to an end Thursday night, with a 5-2 Padres defeat at Petco Park. No matter what else happened in the playoff race, losing yet another series to their Southern California rivals was always going to sting.

And yet, a funny thing is happening in the NL playoff picture. While the other contenders in the Wild Card race have faltered, the Padres’ postseason path has come squarely into focus. And, based on recent results, that path will almost certainly intersect with -- you guessed it -- the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Brewers and Phillies lost again on Thursday. That means the Padres’ magic number to reach the postseason is down to three and their magic number to clinch the second Wild Card spot sits at five. They lead Milwaukee by three games, while holding the all-important head-to-head tiebreaker. (Without a one-game playoff in 2022, that means the Padres would reach the postseason if the two were to end the season with the same record.)

In the meantime, the Padres’ lead over Philadelphia is 2 1/2 games. They don’t own that particular tiebreaker, but based on the standings and the remaining schedules, the Padres are heavy favorites to win that race.

So what does it all mean? Well, barring a collapse, the Padres seem headed for the No. 5 seed in the NL and a Wild Card Series against either the Braves or Mets -- whichever of those two fails to win the NL East.

And if the Padres were to win that series?

How about a seventh crack at the Dodgers in 2022 -- this time with everything at stake?

“I hope we do [face them],” said Padres manager Bob Melvin. “This series, we felt good about every game. As the season went along, bringing in the players we brought in, it didn’t feel like we were maybe a little bit earlier in the season, maybe a little bit overmatched.

“I don’t think that’s the case. Now, they beat us two of three here. Again. They’ve beaten us every series. But I don’t get the sense that if we played them again, we wouldn’t feel confident.”

Indeed, the three series in September weren’t quite so lopsided. The Padres took the opener in each of those three September series, only to drop the last two.

On Thursday, they even purposefully hamstrung themselves before the first pitch. After all, their primary objective right now is not beating the Dodgers. It's reaching the postseason.

They made that abundantly clear with a curious decision to move 's start to Friday, leaving reliever to start something of a bullpen game on Thursday night. Wilson pitched a scoreless first, then relieved with four innings of one-run ball.

Manaea got some help from his defense -- including an excellent diving catch from in the top of the fourth. But this was still the best Manaea has looked in a long time. He almost certainly won’t be part of the Padres’ playoff rotation. But it’s still possible the left-hander pitches his way to a long relief role on the playoff roster, and Thursday’s outing should go a long way.

“At this point, it does not matter,” Manaea said. “I just want to help this team win. Whatever role that is, I’m going to do my best.”

With the top of the Dodgers’ lineup due up in the sixth, Melvin turned to right-hander , who surrendered three runs, and the Padres didn’t threaten after that. Their utter lack of offense against quality Dodgers starting pitching has been wholly troubling.

For the most part, the Padres pitched well enough against the Dodgers this week. Neither nor -- two locks for the postseason rotation -- allowed a run. On top of that, Darvish, in his last start against the Dodgers earlier this month, pitched seven scoreless.

But the Padres won't beat L.A. if they don't score. And all five runs they scored this series were aided by either shoddy Dodgers defense or an automatic runner in extra innings.

“They’re very deep in the bullpen,” Melvin said. “Obviously, they look at it analytically and they match up. … That’s been the strength of their bullpen for years.”

On Thursday, the Padres plated two runs in the first inning when the Dodgers’ infield misplayed ’s grounder into a two-run single. Then they went quiet.

“[We need to] capitalize on the situations that they give us,” said , who finished 3-for-5. “Like, tonight we scored two, and we stayed there. There was some traffic for us in the later innings, and we didn’t score. To beat those guys, you’ve got to add on. We had opportunities.”

Maybe next month, they’ll get another.