Schumaker can relate to Padres' playoff task

September 16th, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO -- Yeah, it's been a rough month for the Padres, who -- after sitting comfortably in a playoff position for most of the year -- find themselves in a knock-down-drag-out fight for the second National League Wild Card spot. But associate manager Skip Schumaker knows a thing or two about a good September dogfight.

Ten years ago, Schumaker's Cardinals sat 5 1/2 games back of the Braves in the NL Wild Card race at the very same juncture of the season, with 2 1/2 weeks remaining.

This weekend, when the Padres open a pivotal three-game set in St. Louis, Schumaker will be honored as part of a Cardinals team that is celebrating the 10-year anniversary of its improbable 2011 World Series title.

Point being this: The Padres find themselves in a precarious position, one they would've preferred to have avoided all together. But other teams have overcome much trickier circumstances to accomplish what the Padres are trying to accomplish.

"We just had a real belief," said Schumaker, who batted .381 that postseason with the only RBI in an epic Game 5 NL Division Series showdown against Roy Halladay’s Phillies. "I know it's cliche, but we actually believed in one day at a time, no distractions. That's what it takes. We believed in ourselves when a lot of people didn't."

And, sure, there are a lot of people doubting these Padres, who have seen their Wild Card lead evaporate as they've gone 15-25 since the Trade Deadline. They entered Thursday trailing the Cardinals by a game in the Wild Card race.

But Schumaker recalled the final weekend of that 2011 season, when, after beating the Astros on the final day, the Cardinals watched from their clubhouse as the Phillies beat the Braves to secure St. Louis' place in the playoffs. He remembers the feeling: The moment that playoff spot was secure, the Cardinals knew immediately how dangerous they could be in October. To that end, there might be a similarity with a Padres rotation that features Joe Musgrove, Blake Snell and Yu Darvish.

"The Phillies had to win that game for us to get in," Schumaker said. "Then all of a sudden we're in, and we're like, 'OK, do you really want to face [Chris] Carpenter?'

"Do you really want to face Musgrove, Snell and Darvish? If we get in, we can be really dangerous."

That's quite an "if," and if there's one major difference between September 2011 for the Cardinals and September 2021 for the Padres, it's the schedule. San Diego's final 23 games all come against teams in playoff position -- and all of them still have something important left to play for.

That's a daunting challenge, but in Schumaker's estimation it's a similar challenge to the sheer number of games the 2011 Cardinals had to make up.

On top of that, the Padres have been decimated by injuries this summer, particularly in their rotation. But the 2011 Cardinals know a thing or two about that. They lost Adam Wainwright to Tommy John surgery, and Albert Pujols missed two months with a broken wrist.

"We had superstars, who, just like our guys, got hurt," Schumaker said. "We had to deal with injuries, too. You just never know. If you can just get in, we're as dangerous as any team. The toughest part is getting in."

So what'll that take? Schumaker pointed to two things: belief and leadership. He posits that these Padres have plenty of both, but he knows the next 2 1/2 weeks will tell the story better than he can.

"Our group of guys aren't fearing whoever we play when we get there," he said. "Right now, it's just: How do you get there? If you can get there, you'll feel really good about it. Getting there is the challenge."