The Padres are coming off their most successful season in at least 14 years. They owned the winter, too, bolstering their roster with blockbuster trade after blockbuster trade. Then they marked the start of Spring Training by signing Fernando Tatis Jr. -- their star player and perhaps the face of baseball -- to a record-setting contract extension.
Blend those ingredients together and you get perhaps the most highly anticipated Padres season in history, which begins Thursday against the D-backs at Petco Park.
Fifty-three seasons into their existence, the Padres remain in search of that elusive first World Series. In other years, it felt like a fantasy. This year, it feels very real.
"We're certainly built to win a championship," said Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer. "We have the pieces we need to win a championship. But there's a lot of steps to accomplish before even thinking about that."
What needs to go right
The Padres took a no-holds-barred approach to their 60-game season last year. They played every game like a playoff game. And, sure, lots of teams said that. But the Padres meant it.
Their energy was relentless. They battled on offense. They battled on the mound. And when they beat you, they enjoyed the heck out of it -- and they let you know. Can that kind of intensity translate over 162 games?
"We treat it very similar to 60 games," said right fielder Wil Myers. "We're going to sprint to the finish line. ... Whatever team we're playing that day, we've got to go out there and take it to them."
If the Padres do that -- if they play with the same combination of fire and swagger -- they have an even better roster than the one that finished with the second-best record in the National League in 2020.
Dinelson Lamet is a certifiable ace and building his way back from an elbow injury. He could return by late April. Chris Paddack believes he has made a few adjustments that might help him find his dominant 2019 form. MacKenzie Gore is MLB Pipeline's top-ranked pitching prospect and is approaching a breakthrough.
If a few things break their way, the Padres might have one of the most dominant rotations in recent memory.
But there's only one MVP of this team. Tatis is the heartbeat. He's the catalyst. He brings the energy and the swagger -- and the elite skill set to match.
Tatis, it's worth remembering, is only 22 years old. Making the leap from Year 1 to Year 2, he significantly cut down his chase rate as a hitter and became an elite defender. What improvements might Tatis make for Year 3? It's a scary thought, but Tatis might get even better.
Team Cy Young will be …
On the same December day, the Padres traded for two perennial Cy Young Award candidates in Darvish and Snell. It was an unprecedented coup for the San Diego rotation.
That duo sits atop the rotation, with Lamet still building up after his injury. They'll get the ball for Games 1 and 2 of the season. Darvish -- because of his history of throwing more innings -- gets the slight edge here.
The Padres will set a franchise wins record. The best team in franchise history -- the 1998 Padres -- won 98 games. This team is every bit as talented, and probably more so.
Whether a win total in the high 90s is enough to win the National League West -- that remains to be seen. The Padres share a division with the defending-champion Dodgers, after all. But they’re clearly hungry to dethrone their rivals -- as evidenced by the flurry of offseason moves.
"It's what baseball should be about," Snell said of the burgeoning Padres-Dodgers rivalry. "It's going to a fun [season] that everyone around the world is going to want to watch."
Grab a seat. It's only just getting started.