+ By Dennis Gulyas
So you’re saying there’s a chance? Having won in dramatic fashion to clinch the series against the Mets (thanks to late inning heroics provided by Justin Upton in the midst of a torrential downpour), a come from behind eleven inning victory against the Marlins on the heels of a rare blown-save by Craig Kimbrel, coupled with improbably comebacks in the series finale against the Marlins (care of a 9th inning Alexi Amarista homer) and the third game of the Brewers series (a Brett Wallace blast that went upper deck), the Padres have me teetering on the precipice between playoff pipe-dreams and confidence that we are a legitimate contender. Could I be so naive to think that this team, 109 games into the season and five games under .500, is “THE” team of destiny?
On one hand, since the All-Star break the Friars have posted a 11-8 record, winners of four out of six of their last series – dropping series to the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants and the 60 plus loss Milwaukee Brewers. Shockingly, San Diego is one of five National League teams this season that can brag about being undefeated when leading after the eighth inning owning a 41-0 record. The Padres also lead the National League in runs scored in the seventh inning or later (162) – twelve more than the Giants.
On the other, coming into tonight’s game the Padres rank 28th in Major League Baseball in team batting average (.240), third in total team strikeouts (909 and counting), and are dead-last in on-base percentage (.296). Paltry, pathetic, underachieving, disappointing… need I continue the superlative barrage? Please excuse my frustration and skepticism. I digress.
This wasn’t supposed to happen to THIS team. A team that A.J. Preller unexpectedly whipped up in a frenzy following winter meetings bringing national acclaim and premature expectations. A team that was supposed to make everyone forget about how historically abysmal the 2014 squad’s offense was by bringing in proven veteran talent via marquee nationally recognizable names (Matt Kemp and Justin Upton, ring a bell?). But here we are in early August, staring up at the divisional standings nearly ten games back of the NL West leading Dodgers while crunching numbers to figure out how we can mathematically claw our way into one of the remaining two wild card spots – currently a log jam between the Pirates, Cubs, and Giants.
Beginning their six game homestand the Padres have a fantastic opportunity within their reach. San Diego possesses one of the easiest portions of their 2015 schedule with series against the Phillies, Reds, Rockies, and Braves in the next coming weeks. The Phillies, despite dealing their left-handed ace and San Diego native Cole Hamels, have played surprisingly well since the break; but like all of the others are considered well out of reach from being playoff contenders. Three consecutive losses to the Brewers now have everybody scratching their heads wondering exactly which direction this team is heading and speculating if we’ve heard the first of many nails being hammered in the 2015 postseason coffin.
Every season tends to have a Cinderella – a team that had no business making the playoffs but somehow found a way to spark their season, edging their way to the playoffs, and potentially rolling off wins en route to a World Series appearance. The baseball deities have yet to anoint this year’s version. But if the Padres can handle business in the next few weeks, doing something they’ve struggled to do all season long (play consistently), they have a chance to pull off one of the most improbable comebacks in recent memory by staking their claim to a postseason playoff berth.
If skipper Pat Murphy (who provided an ominous reaction in yesterday’s post-game interview, “Today was the first day it resonated that we were sputtering.”) can find a way to motivate this team to rise to the occasion and take advantage of this stretch of series against struggling teams, not only will he begin to prove Preller a front-office genius by not moving players at the trade deadline, it will add fuel to the Friar faithful. A fan base that is yearning to celebrate any sports story not stadium related. A fan base that has been waiting a decade for meaningful hometown October baseball. A fan base that is optimistic in resurrecting a staple mantra of the ‘98 season: “Believe in the Padres, and keep the faith!”
For now, we have to patiently wait with cautious optimism to see if these Padres are the team of destiny we hope – or just another all too familiar version of an injury-riddled disappointment that fell short of what they were supposed to accomplish: getting into the postseason tournament and making a run at a championship.