SAN DIEGO -- These Padres sure don’t look like the team that spent the season’s first 5 1/2 months mired in their own underperformance. No, these Padres look like the team they always expected themselves to be in 2023.
On Wednesday afternoon, they completed a sweep of the Rockies with a 3-2 victory at Petco Park. A week ago, the Padres hadn’t won four games in a row all year. They’ve now won seven straight -- and they’re winning precisely the types of close games they hadn’t won all season.
So, to be blunt, where has this been all along?
“It was there,” said right fielder Fernando Tatis Jr. “It just was not happening. It was underperforming, and it was not playing as a group together. Now it looks like all of the pieces are just adding up. … We found an answer that we were looking for the entire year. Sadly, it took this long.”
Indeed, the Padres’ recent surge seems destined to end up being too little, too late. They trail by 4 1/2 games in the National League Wild Card race with nine to play.
“Still hoping for a miracle,” said shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who tallied three hits on Wednesday. “We’re still in until they tell us otherwise.”
A miracle is what it would take. For the past week now, the Padres have been reluctant to throw in the towel on their season. They’ve repeatedly mentioned the possibility of winning out. However lofty that goal seemed a week ago, they’ve at least backed it up with their longest winning streak of the season.
But the reality is, with four teams to jump, even winning out might not be enough. If the Padres win every game the rest of the way, they’re still going to need help.
“It's a tough situation we're in,” said Bogaerts. “We did it to ourselves.”
By the end of Wednesday’s game, San Diego had doubled its postseason odds according to FanGraphs -- from 0.1% to 0.2%. Barring that miracle run, the Padres will almost certainly be left to rue why they couldn’t find this version of themselves earlier in the season.
The cynical view is that they began playing like contenders only once they were no longer seriously in contention. A strong finish won’t wipe away all that went wrong for 5 1/2 months. In some ways, it only makes it worse.
Bogaerts doesn’t subscribe to that notion.
"I think it would be worse if we never found it,” he said. “It's still bad it took so long. But at least we figured out what was in there, and we're kind of showing it right now. This is what everyone expected. This is what [we] expected to play like, this level of baseball. It's really tough that it's this late."
For the most part, the Padres haven’t been able to pinpoint a reason why it took so long. But on Wednesday afternoon, Tatis was particularly candid about the burden of expectations the team felt.
“All the expectations and knowing the group that we were,” Tatis said. “All the good players and the hype. People were excited. Coming in as a group together, I feel like we put a little bit of pressure on ourselves. Too much. Not trying to perform, but trying to make it happen. … I feel like we learned our lesson.”
What lesson, exactly?
“It taught us a lot as a group,” Tatis continued. “It means: Cut the eyewash. Just come in as a group knowing what you need to do. Go out there, play the game, make yourself feel like a kid again. This is the hardest game in the world. Adding that pressure is just overwhelming.”
Watching these Padres reel off a winning streak like this one at this juncture -- that’s precisely what it looks like. No longer burdened by the weight of expectations, they’re doing the little things right.
On Wednesday, Luis Campusano came off the bench for a game-tying, opposite-field single in the seventh. Ji Man Choi followed with a go-ahead, pinch-hit sacrifice fly. The San Diego bullpen locked it down from there, and the Padres had their first one-run win since July 21.
“Walk-off last night and a one-run win today,” said Padres manager Bob Melvin. “Next thing you know, we’ll win an extra-inning game.”
Melvin -- alluding to the team’s 0-11 record in extras, tongue firmly in cheek -- proceeded to knock on wood. He has spent months trying to bring out this version of the 2023 Padres. Out of nowhere, it arrived, and he’s not entirely sure why it took so long.
“If I did have that recipe for you,” Melvin said, “we’d probably have a better record.”