A great team -- and these Padres insist they’re capable of becoming exactly that -- rarely achieves that status without enduring its share of adversity.
However much the Padres would’ve preferred to avoid it … Here comes the adversity.
San Diego ran its losing streak to a season-high four games on Wednesday afternoon with a 6-1 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field. On top of that, left fielder Tommy Pham and shortstop Ha-Seong Kim exited after a brutal fourth-inning collision in shallow left field, which prompted an outburst from Pham in the San Diego dugout, where he needed to be restrained by teammates.
So, yeah, adversity.
“We play 162 games,” Padres utility man Jurickson Profar would say afterward. “It’s not always going to be smooth.”
The Padres were already without starting center fielder Trent Grisham and catcher Austin Nola, who are on the injured list. Fernando Tatis Jr. was out of the lineup, too, after he’d felt some tightness in his right oblique on Tuesday night.
Then came Wednesday and a collision between two more key contributors. Pham received stitches in his chin, and he’ll require a CT scan upon the team’s return to San Diego. Kim, meanwhile, appears to have avoided a concussion after going through protocols. As for the spat (between Pham and an unspecified second party), manager Jayce Tingler was dismissive.
“We’ve got a passionate group, and passion’s a good thing,” Tingler said. “At times things are going to get heated. But passion’s a good thing, competitiveness is a good thing. We’ll move on.”
These Padres, of course, have proven themselves more than capable of overcoming adversity already this season. They lost five of their 12 position players in one fell swoop last month because of COVID-19 related issues, then went 10-1 before all five had returned.
“We’re built for this,” Tingler said. “We’re going to go through moments, we’re going to go through pockets where we have times like this. This isn’t a first. It’s not going to be the last. … This thing’s going to turn. I know it just because of the way guys are competing and the talent we have.”
Of course, there’s a somewhat simple three-step formula for a quick Padres bounceback:
1. Get production from outside of Tatis
Tatis has done all the heavy lifting on offense lately, and without his game-tying homers in Houston, this could be a six-game losing streak for the Padres. Tatis was named the National League Player of the Month for May, after hitting .353/.440/.824. The rest of the offense, meanwhile, has sputtered.
The Padres remain optimistic that Tatis won’t require a stint on the IL. Still, they could use some production from the other big names in their lineup, notably Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers. (Machado, it’s worth pointing out, has been red-hot since returning from a shoulder injury.)
2. Get length from the rotation
Dinelson Lamet turned in his best start of the season on Wednesday afternoon -- four innings of one-run ball on 72 pitches with six strikeouts, using his electric slider and a stunningly crisp fastball. The Padres have built Lamet up slowly this year after his season came to an early end last September due to elbow trouble. For perhaps the first time since then, this looked like vintage Lamet.
“As each day passes, I start to feel more and more comfortable,” Lamet said afterward. “That goes for the physical side of things and the mental side of things.”
The Padres' decision to slow-play Lamet is a sensible approach, and yet it’s also contributing to an undue burden on the San Diego relief corps. Lamet’s four-inning outing was the 24th start of four innings or fewer by a Padres starter. No other team has more than 19.
3. Get home and get healthy
If the road trip felt longer than 10 games, well, in a way, it was. The Padres set a franchise record with four consecutive extra-innings games between Houston and Milwaukee last week. Then they endured a strange day-night-day three-game set in Chicago.
“We’re a little tired, but no excuse,” Profar said. “We’re ready to go back tomorrow, and get to Petco and get the ship in the right direction again. I can tell you we have dogs in there that are very hungry. We’re ready to turn this ship back in the right direction.”
For all the mounting injuries, the Padres hope to have avoided disaster with Kim, Pham and Tatis. It’s possible all three stay off the IL. The sooner they return, the better, because the task doesn’t get any easier. The Padres’ next 10 games are against first-place teams, beginning with the Mets on Thursday.
Then again, despite the struggles, injuries and disappointments, the Padres were a game out of first place at the conclusion of Wednesday’s game, owners of the second-best record in the National League. They’ve passed every test thrown their way so far this season. It’s time for another.