Loss puts .500 out of reach for Padres

Friars shut out in opener of season-ending series in SF

October 2nd, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO -- On the final weekend of the season in San Francisco, a World Series favorite is on the verge of dethroning the Dodgers for the National League West crown.

That team -- and you probably wouldn't have believed this in March -- is not the Padres.

Indeed, the Giants are having the season the Padres thought they'd be having. The Padres, meanwhile, are having the season that most of the baseball world figured the Giants would be having.

While San Francisco inched ever closer to a NL West title on Friday night, the Padres were left with this stark reality after their 3-0 loss at Oracle Park: For the 10th time in 11 seasons, they'll finish below .500. The only exception was 2020's shortened 60-game season.

“We never imagined being here,” said Padres manager Jayce Tingler, whose club is 78-82. “We certainly didn’t imagine being in this spot, especially through the first half.”

It has been quite a fall from grace for the team that held the best record in baseball in late May and seriously eyed a division title at the All-Star break. On July 23, the Padres sat 17 games above .500. Now, they’re four games under, having lost seven straight and with the worst record in baseball since Aug. 11.

“It's been really hard,” star shortstop said prior to the game. “Us not making the playoffs, it was just a dagger straight to the heart, especially with the type of team we had. ... This is a part of baseball. We just learn from it, and we keep moving.”

Keep moving. Really, that's all the Padres can do. After this weekend, they’ll move right into an eventful offseason. Change is almost certainly coming to an organization that entered the season with World Series aspirations and instead will finish below .500. The extent of that change comes down to general manager A.J. Preller, who has already parted ways with pitching coach Larry Rothschild and farm director Sam Geaney, while moving scouting director Mark Conner into a special assistant role.

Whatever further changes are coming, Tatis’ remarkable 2021 season offers a reminder: it’s not so bleak as the past month and a half would suggest. The Padres have a 22-year-old superstar to build around, and he’s locked up contractually for the next 13 years. Really, they have in place a handful of foundational pieces for a successful 2022 season.

Then again, some retooling needs to be done.

Sure, the Padres were hit hard by injuries. But they also failed to rise up and meet that challenge. Tatis is adamant that the Padres are “really close.” But what, exactly, needs to change for San Diego to do what the Giants have done this year, turning a sub-.500 team into one of the best teams in baseball?

“That’s A.J.’s work,” Tatis said with a laugh. “Everybody knows what type of group we had at the beginning and how injuries affected us. It’s very clear what happened. Now we’ve got to hold ourselves accountable. Injuries are a part of this game. But we’ve just got to find how to be a little bit more deep of a team.”

Maybe the Padres reinforce that depth in the offseason. Maybe they make some other shrewd decisions and transactions. Maybe they catch a break next season with their injury luck.

But even if all of that goes right, here’s another reality the Padres have to deal with: There’s no longer only one behemoth in the NL West they need to overtake. There are two. The Dodgers and Giants are both 100-game winners, and they’ll finish the season with the two best records in the Major Leagues.

“Both those teams -- we’ve got work to do to get there,” Tingler said. “And that’s where we’ve got to get to. … We’ve seen the entire National League. No doubt there are some good teams out there. But these are two of the deepest teams around.”

In 2021, the Padres learned the hard way that they were not. They’ve got a long winter ahead that they’ll spend trying to fix that.