It is hard to believe that as recently as 25 August, the Padres enjoyed a 6.5 game lead in the National League West and had the League’s best record. The next day a funny thing happened. I attended a game. It was my first Padre game of the season, days after I returned from months in Israel. They lost that day, to the lowly Diamondbacks, and would lose nine more before their next win.
Today they are on the precipice, having evidently forgotten what little they ever knew about hitting.
Let me see if I have this straight…
The Padres could win all three in San Francisco this weekend, then come home for an “overhang game” against the Giants, win their fourth straight, and be the division winner.
Or the Padres could win all three in San Francisco, and avoid needing to make it a 4-game streak, if the Braves lose three in a row at home against the Phillies. Then the Braves would be eliminated from the Wild Card, and the Padres would be the division winner without a tie-breaking game (because they would have won the head-to-head with the Giants, 13-5, making SF the Wild Card team).
It gets yet more interesting if the Padres sweep while the Braves win one of three. Then we have a three-way tie. Now that would be fun to watch, but it still means a 4-game winning streak against the Giants to win the division. (If they lost their overhang game against the Giants they’d get one more chance in this scenario, in an overhang game against the Braves for the Wild Card.)
Or the Padres could win just two of three from the Giants, while the Braves get swept. Then they play the Braves in an overhang game to decide the Wild Card.
See, still various ways to get to the playoffs even after a miserable five weeks. But the best we can say for the Padres is they simply need a miracle.
Hey fans, as they like to say at the Padres’ ballpark, “keep the faith!”
The Padres have traded for one of my favorite ballplayers. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Jim Edmonds has shown no sign these last two seasons of the peak performance that made his Hall of Fame case seem reasonable as recently as spring, 2006.
If he has anything left, this will be fun to watch (well, if I were able to watch Padres games other than the few I manage to attend, that is). But if he is as washed up as I think he is, then it will be very painful to watch Jim E.–both as a hitter and a fielder–in that vast ballpark.
Barry Bonds tied Hank Aaron last night in San Diego. And the crowd was pretty classy, from what I could tell, as I listened on the radio and then saw some highlights on the tele later. Aside from the asterisk signs (left over, apparently, from some Presidential visit), the crowd’s response was not the barrage of boos that might have been expected from all the controversy that surrounds Bonds.
However, a big “BOO” to the Padres organization for requiring the game to be blacked out on ESPN2. As a result, those of us who live in areas, such as Ladera Frutal, not served by cable (or who simply prefer the superior service of satellite) had no way to see the game.
Was anyone else surprised that the Padres traded Scott Linebrink in the midst of the race? He has struggled lately, to be sure. Now he is a Brewer, giving that team’s bullpen an ex-Padre to go along with its two ex-Angels.
At no point in this series did the Padres ever take a lead. In fact, all their scoring was late in games, which suggests that the Cardinals’ bullpen could be a concern going forward, but confirms what we already knew about the NL’s team in red: They have a super-powered offense that will exploit any opening the other team offers, as well as very strong starting pitching. Of course, even more than that, it confirmed what we knew about the Padres: They simply did not deserve to play in the postseason. They were there only by quirk of a very weak division. In fact, the Padres had a much better team in 2004, when they could not sustain a wild-card bid, than in 2005, when they, the Dodgers, and the Giants (as well as the dreadful Rockies) all had worse years.
Thanks to ex-Angels David Eckstein (singled and scored first run, and hit a 2-run homer) and Jim Edmonds (great catch at the wall, though ho-hum by his standards) for more star-power heroics in Game 3.
The Cards now await the outcome of the Bravesâ€“Astros series to see who is coming to town for the start of the NLCS.
I will be distracted for a while. The playoffs are beginning!
[UPDATE, 11:40 a.m. PDT: So much for the Padres-could-win scenario (described below): 8 runs off Peavy. What a statement by the Redbirds!]
This was one of the most exciting final weekends of baseball’s regular season in many yearsâ€”especially in the American League. We did not get the 3-way tie that I was rooting for (on the principle that more baseball is always better than less, and also because the competition being worn out while the Angels clinched early is a self-evidently good thing). But we did get three 95-win teams (and one with 99) in the AL, so the playoffs should be tense. The Indians, who came from far behind and just over a week ago led the wild card race and threatened the White Sox for the Central lead, suddenly in the last week forgot how to score, but still wound up with 93 wins and just missed out.
But before the AL gets underway, first up is the NL West winner, the Padres, with their 82-80 record, facing the St. Louis Cardinals, 100-62. Six teams in the NL finished with a better record than the Padres, and three of them (the Phillies, who were eliminated from the wild card race on the final day, and the Marlins and Mets) are not going to the playoffs. On the last day of the season, the Brewers (19 games behind St. Louis in the Central) and the Nationals (9 out in the East) lost their games to finish at .500, while the Padres won to finish with a bare-winning record. The .500 was quite an achievement for the perennially bad Brerwers and ex-Expos.
Despite finishing with 18 fewer wins that the Cardinals, the Padres actually have a chance. They got the luck of the draw in the playoff schedule. Every year there is one series that has two days off in the first five days. And this year that is the Padres. That means they can start Jake Peavy, one of the best pitchers in the league, in Games 1 and 4â€”if they can get a win out of one other pitcher’s start in Game 2 or 3. Meanwhile, the Cardinals’ number 1 pitcher, Chris Carpenter, had a terrible finish (0-1 with a 9.14 ERA in his last four starts). If Peavy is on, the Padres could steal this. If not, they can probably forget it.
During the regular season, the Cardinals won 6 and lost 4 of their head-to-head match-ups with the Padres. However, three of the Padres’ 4 wins came in May, the one month when the Padres actually looked like a team that would belong in the playoffs. The Cardinals actually outscored the Padres in those ten games by a combined 43-11. Yes, 43-11. But two of those games were blowouts, 15-5 and 11-3, in games started by pitchers who are not currently with the Padres. The other games were quite close, including three decided by one run.
I like the Cardinals. They start their lineup with two of my favorite (ex-) Angels: David Eckstein and Jim Edmonds. And Edmonds gave the Cardinals a quick 1-0 lead by hitting a home run off Peavy in the first. (Right on Jim E.!)
Speaking of the Angels, by sweeping their season-ending series, and thanks to the Red Sox winning 2 of 3 against the Yankees, the team from Los Angeles/Anaheim won the home-field advantage in the first round against the Yankees. This could be important: The Yankees were a whopping 53-28 at The House that Ruth Built, but a pedestrian 42-39 on the road. That series starts at 5:00 PDT today. Keeping the fingers crossed. This Angels team is not as good as the 2002 team, and it could really go either way.
In between, we get the battle of the Sox starting this afternoon. I’m torn on that one. I have always liked the Red Sox, but would like to see someone new advance. More importantly, if the Angels should advance to the next round, I think they match up better against the White Sox than the Red ones. But that is getting way too far ahead of ourselves. But I will say that I really, really hope not to have another rematch of the Yankees and Red Sox in the ALCS, notwithstanding how spectacular that match-up was the last two years.
Tomorrow begins the rematch of the Astros and Braves, who should be quite evenly matched. The Astros were 89-73 and thus deserving wild card winners despite being 11 games behind their division winner, St. Louis. The Braves were 90-72 and have won 14 straight titles (though not in 14 straight years, as one hears said sometimes: in 1994, due the players’ strike, there was no champion and the Braves were actually trailing the Expos when the season was suspended in August).
Back on August 23, I lamented the possibility that the Padres might win the National League West with a sub-.500 record, and that even if they wound up above .500 at the end of the season, they were going to have a worse record than several teams that would miss the postseason.
Well here we are with 7 games to go, and the Padres record?
This is worse than the Washington Nationals, now in fifth (last) place in the NL East, 11 games out (78-78). It is the same record as the mighty Milwaukee Brewers, who are 19 out in the Central. The wild-card leader, Houston, is currently at 85-71, clinging to a 1-game lead over the Phillies. One of those two teams will miss out, as will the Florida Marlins (80-76) and the NY Mets (78-77).
The only way this NL West situation gets interesting is if the Giants, currently 4 out with a 73-82 record, sweep the 4-game series starting tonight in San Diego.
The Padres have to go 6-1 to avoid going into the playoffs with the worst record in baseball history of any team that ever saw postseason play.
As of today, the San Diego Padres lead the National League West by four games over the Arizona Diamondbacks. But the Padres have a record that is below .500, at 61-63. They have not been above .500 for more than a day here and there for much of the second half of the season.
Baseball needs a rule under which if a division leader ends the season below .500, the division forfeits its right to a representative in the playoffs in favor of the runner-up in the wild-card race. No reason to reward mediocrity.
While the Padres are below .500, every team in the NL East is over .500; in fact, over .516 (64-60).
It has never happened in baseball that a playoff team has finished its regular season below .500. It might have happened in 1994, when the players’ strike ended the season with the Texas Rangers below .500, but there were still some 50 games to play that year, so we can’t say.
Moreover, 1994 was in the old “balanced” schedule, by which the division you played in had no bearing on the opposition you faced: you faced every team in your league the same number of times, regardless of division. Now the schedule is “unbalanced,” meaning teams play more games against each of their division rivals than they play against any each extra-divisional team.
That means the Padres are really quite mediocre, at best, as is the entire West division.
The Padres currently have the eighth best record in the league. Yet only three of those seven teams with better records would go to the playoffs if the season ended today:
St. Louis Cardinals–the Central division leader by 12 games, with a .632 record.
Atlanta Braves–the East division leader by 4.5 games, with a .568 record.
Houston Astros–the curtent Wild Card leader as the best second-place team in the league, clinging to a 1/2 game lead over Florida and Philadelphia.
I have heard a lot about what a great wild-card race the NL has this year. Oh, sure, there is a big fight among six teams–including every team in the NL East–to see who gets the Wild Card. Meanwhile, more than one of the ‘losers’ will have a better record than the Padres, even if San Diego manages to get its head above the surf before the season ends.
Let me say this clearly: If the Padres remain below .500, it will be a travesty. It will be even more a travesty if they beat the Braves, against whom they are 5-1 this season, in the first postseason round.
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4