SAN DIEGO -- It’s been a rough month in San Diego -- the kind of month that’ll prompt questions about the Padres’ future and where they go from here after falling from the National League playoff picture.
But here’s one thing worth remembering about that future in San Diego: The Padres have a 22-year-old superstar at shortstop who just hit 40 home runs.
Fernando Tatis Jr. went deep in the seventh inning of Wednesday night's 8-6 loss to the Giants at Petco Park, his 40th home run of the season, putting him in exclusive company in franchise history as just the fifth player to reach the 40-homer plateau. He joins Greg Vaughn (50 homers in 1998), Phil Nevin (41 in 2001), Ken Caminiti (40 in 1996) and Adrián González (40 in 2009) as the only Padres to do so.
“I wish I could celebrate in a different story,” Tatis said after reaching base three times in a losing effort. “But it’s been a long year, a lot of ups and downs, especially coming back from those injuries. At the end of the day, my standpoint, I’m pretty happy [with] the results and how I’ve bounced back. This is history. It’s something to celebrate.”
Tatis became just the 10th player to hit at least 40 home runs at age 22 or younger. Notably, he is the only player on that list to do so having played the majority of his games at shortstop.
It’s an incredibly select group that includes fellow superstar Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who has 46 this season and is chasing Eddie Mathews’ mark of 47 set in 1953. That he shares the honor with Guerrero this year was of particular significance for Tatis.
“That’s my boy,” Tatis said. “I’m so happy for him, and I’m pretty sure he’s so happy for me. We kind of have the same mind, both sons of Major Leaguers, doing special things.
“I’m really happy for him, because I know how hard it can get, with people talking about what we’re going to do. We’re sons, the expectations -- both of us coming out there and exceeding people’s expectations, it’s just amazing.”
Tatis is currently vying to become the first Padre to win an MVP Award since Caminiti in that 1996 season. And for any talk of Tatis’ part in the Padres struggles down the stretch, uh ... he is hitting .314 with a .921 OPS in September, and he’s doing it with a balky left shoulder.
“Crazy impressive,” said Padres manager Jayce Tingler. “Obviously, he’s done it from shortstop, center and right field, and he’s had to handle a lot of adversity, dealing with the shoulder.”
That hasn’t been enough to carry the Padres to a playoff spot. (With Wednesday’s loss, San Diego slipped a whopping six games back of the Cardinals in the NL Wild Card race, only a game above .500.) But the Padres’ pitching woes are hardly Tatis’ doing. Same goes for their brutal injury luck. And yet, Tatis is the first one to point the finger at himself.
“I feel like we could’ve done a better job as a group, especially myself on the front line,” Tatis said. “Just [finding] a way -- I feel like we lack a little bit in that as a team.”
Ultimately, the Padres haven’t found a way. But all Tatis has done is post what’s easily the best season for a primary shortstop in franchise history, worth about 6 wins above replacement (and counting). When the team asked him to move to the outfield in August in an effort to stay healthy, Tatis willingly obliged. When they asked him to move back to shortstop when their injuries began to pile up, he did that, too.
Those efforts, it appears, will go for naught. Ten days ago, the Padres led in the race for the second NL Wild Card spot. But the Cardinals have reeled off 11 straight victories, and the Padres have now dropped five straight -- three of those to St. Louis over the weekend, a series that included a public spat between Tatis and Manny Machado.
If there were any faint, lingering hopes of a Padres comeback following their weekend in St. Louis, those have seemingly been extinguished over the past two nights. On Wednesday, San Diego trailed 3-0 after Vince Velasquez’s rocky first inning, the only inning he pitched in a piggyback with Ryan Weathers. The Padres pounded out 13 hits, but couldn’t quite claw their way back into it.
Tatis had two of those hits, plus a walk. But -- perhaps emblematic of the Padres’ season -- they asked just a bit too much of him. Having trailed by seven runs in the seventh, Tatis’ homer sparked a late five-run outburst. He even came to the plate in the ninth as the go-ahead run -- and sent a deep fly ball to left ...
... that landed in Kris Bryant’s glove, a few feet shy of the warning track.
“We were, it felt like, a half-inch away,” Tingler said. “Off Tatis’ bat, I think he just got it a half-inch off the end. If it’s just a little tighter to the sweet spot, it’s a different story.”