Padres end 'brutal' 1-win trip feeling 'edgy'

August 19th, 2021

DENVER -- The Padres entered the 2021 season with high aspirations centered on a quest for their first National League West title in 15 years. 

They knew they'd have to derail the Dodgers to get there. By mid-May, it became clear they’d have to derail the upstart Giants as well. The Padres settled in for a summer-long battle against two of the most complete teams in baseball. They felt they were up for the challenge.

In a way, they were. Up for that challenge, at least. But in the cruelest twist of fate, the challenge that ultimately derailed their NL West hopes didn't come from either of their primary rivals. Instead, the Padres' division title hopes came undone with their performance against the Rockies and D-backs this season, two teams a combined 53 games below .500.

San Diego completed one of its worst road trips in recent memory on Wednesday afternoon with a 7-5 loss to the Rockies at Coors Field. It capped a Colorado sweep in which the Padres’ trailed after 26 of the 27 innings they played. That came on the heels of three losses in four games in Arizona, including a no-hitter from D-backs righty Tyler Gilbert, who was making his first career start on Saturday.

“There’s no way to say it, just a brutal road trip,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said.

Total it all up, and the Padres are 17-18 this season against the D-backs and Rockies. Compare that with the Dodgers (21-5) and the Giants (23-6), and, well, it should be painfully obvious why the gap has grown to 12 games between San Diego and the top of the division.

Instead, the Padres (67-56) suddenly find themselves locked into a tense battle with the Reds (65-57) -- and perhaps even the surging Cardinals (61-57) -- for the second NL Wild Card spot. Given a chance to extend their lead after Cincinnati’s loss to the Cubs, the Padres fell flat.

Making his Padres debut, right-hander Jake Arrieta exited early with a mild left hamstring strain after he’d allowed five runs over 3 1/3 innings. Wil Myers homered twice, but it wasn’t enough. San Diego’s Wild Card lead stagnated at 1 1/2 games.

“You can’t focus on who’s behind you, who’s ahead of you, how many games are left, what schedule is left,” Myers said. “... If you focus on the negatives, those will end up piling up. For us, we’re a team that can really go and get hot at any given point. We can run out 10 wins a row. We’ve shown that.”

They have. And in that regard, perhaps it’s worth looking back to mid-June, when the Padres came off a similarly demoralizing sweep in Colorado to finish a stretch in which they’d lost 13 of 17. They followed that series with Victor Caratini’s walk-off home run sparking a four-game sweep of Cincinnati, then a three-game sweep of the Dodgers.

Feels like ages ago, doesn’t it? This time around, the Padres are dealing with a depleted pitching staff, as Yu Darvish and Chris Paddack work their way back from injury. They’re also reeling from a Trade Deadline in which they did not bolster their rotation, only for two of the most prominent contributors to be sidelined in the next 10 days. That left Arrieta, whose ERA jumped to 7.13 on Wednesday, as the only viable back-end rotation option available.

“No excuses,” Tingler said. “It’s got to be everybody coming together. This is what we got. This is the group we have. There’s a ton of belief in the group. There’s nobody else coming. This is it, and so it’s just got to be a group of men fighting, competing for every pitch.”

Now the Padres enter the hard part of their schedule -- or what’s supposed to be the hard part, at least. They’ll do so having lost significant ground in what was supposed to be the easy part. Of their remaining 39 games, 32 are against teams with playoff aspirations. Nineteen are against the Dodgers and Giants. (The Padres, it should be noted, are a combined 11-8 against those two this season.)

Then again, while the names on the schedule get tougher, the schedule itself eases up a bit. The Padres have six off-days in the next 22 days, which could prove extremely useful for a beleaguered pitching staff.

The reality is this: Only 10 teams get playoff spots, and the Padres, with 6 1/2 weeks to play, own one of them right now. If Darvish and Paddack get healthy, if Fernando Tatis Jr. stays healthy, if some things click on offense, if the bullpen stays fresh enough to continue its dominance … 

“This group has everything necessary to make a postseason run, and have tremendous success in October,” Arrieta said. “We need to remember that, even when series like this happen.”

That may be true. It still doesn’t make a series like this one any easier to swallow.

“We’re pissed off, frustrated,” Tingler said. “Those can be good things. Are we in the right frame [of mind]? Yeah, absolutely. An edgy, upset group, I think that’s a good thing going down the stretch.”