Are the Padres going to make the playoffs? Probably not.
Even after San Diego’s eighth consecutive win Friday, made possible by a pair of home runs by the recently maligned Manny Machado, the team’s odds of qualifying for the postseason stood at 1.1%, according to FanGraphs.
So yes, we’re saying there’s a chance.
As for the timing, well, it is curious that the Padres suddenly picked themselves up off the mat just as stories began surfacing about their organizational dysfunction — certainly not atypical for this time of year. When a club with the third-highest payroll in the sport, a $280 million price tag for luxury-tax purposes, underperforms to such a staggering degree, an autopsy is necessary to figure out where to point the blame.
But with Friday’s victory pulling the Padres to within four games of the third wild-card spot with eight games remaining, that process, which seemingly began in earnest a week ago, now has to be put on hold. It’s a formidable task. The only team to win 15 in a row to close out the season was the 1960 Yankees, but they were comfortably in first place (97-57-1) before ultimately losing to the Pirates in the World Series.
Of course, seeing the Padres go on a roll like this makes one further question the underlying motivational issues for a group that many predicted would play deep into October. Padres president of baseball operations A.J. Preller, a Huntington Station native, obviously has been under fire for his aggressive spending in building such a costly, high-profile disappointment, but what he tried to do isn’t all that different from New York's two big-money catastrophes.
The $377 million Mets held a fire sale at the trade deadline, essentially buying prospects in those cash-for-talent swaps, and already have tempered expectations for 2024. They were officially eliminated from playoff contention Friday night in Philly, and at 71-84, are guaranteed of finishing with a losing record.
As for the 78-76 Yankees and their $294 million mess, they provided a late flicker of hope by winning 14 of 19 and managed to trim their wild-card deficit from 11 games to six on Sept. 16. It proved to be unsustainable, however, and losing two of three this past week to the Blue Jays — one of the teams they were chasing — effectively squashed their own microscopic odds.
Maybe the Padres’ resurgence is nothing more than a “dead cat bounce,” to borrow a Wall Street term for a briefly recovering stock price. But at least they’re giving Petco Park a September, something that isn’t happening in the morose (and mostly empty) New York ballparks.
You could say a woefully underachieving roster doesn’t deserve credit for a late-summer rally. But it’s better than the alternative we’re witnessing around here.
And for that San Diego clubhouse, it’s been a welcome conversation-changer, particularly for $350 million third baseman Machado, who was the main protagonist in last week’s San Diego Union-Tribune story that questioned his leadership and the team’s “culture” overall.
As the story emphasizes, there no doubt are many reasons why the Padres sunk to the depths they’ve been at all season, but Machado — as the highest-paid player and perennial MVP — turns out to be a lightning rod in the middle of storms like this.
“Honestly, the moral to the story is simple,” Machado told the Union-Tribune. “I think we’re getting a little sidetracked here . . . I think ultimately there are [a lot of] guys that lead here . . . We’re all obviously going to be here for a long time, and people look up to us, and they expect us to go out there every single day and be better. I think we didn’t this year. That falls on us. That falls on me for not performing how I’m supposed to perform and the capabilities I’m supposed to be performing at. And when these things happen, this is the outcome.
“And these conversations start happening. ‘Oh, well, there’s no chemistry, there’s no leadership or there’s no this or there’s no that. The clubhouse is getting lost. The manager has lost the clubhouse, the front office this.’ There’s always gonna be stuff. And ultimately it comes down to one thing: We didn’t perform. I didn’t perform what I’m capable of performing. We didn’t perform. Because that’s just what it is. And you’ve got to take full responsibility [for] that.”
There is plenty of truth in what Machado said. Baseball is a results-oriented business and more statistically driven than any other sport. The numbers don’t lie. But the other stuff that Machado dismisses can contribute to system-wide declines in performance. They’re not only byproducts of what’s showing up in the standings.
Take what Tommy Pham told The Athletic about the Mets. Calling them out as the “least-hardest working group of position players I’ve ever played with” would seem to make perfect sense on the surface, even coming from a former Mets outfielder who was traded to the Diamondbacks at the deadline.
Such a damning accusation certainly helps to explain the Flushing nosedive this season. And Pham did it on the record, unlike the usual anonymous sources relied on as the basis for dissecting a franchise’s deep-rooted issues. Did the Mets start mailing it in when the season started to go south? Or was the lack of preparation that Pham referred to just a flaw in this group’s collective DNA?
That’s the gray area — and where the investigation begins for any front office looking to avoid a repeat of this season’s mistakes.
As for the Padres, there is no better clubhouse deodorant than winning, and Machado belting those two homers Friday night to beat the Cardinals makes it appear as if everything is sunny again in San Diego.
“We’re emptying the tank,” Machado told reporters at Petco Park.
And happy the focus has shifted back to baseball for this final week rather than pointing fingers.
“We’ve tried all sorts of strategies here to try to understand where we are,” manager Bob Melvin said. “I think right now, we’re just playing games.”
Too little, too late, most likely. But the Padres will have plenty of time for the autopsy come October, which was supposed to be a month for chasing the franchise’s first championship. The Mets and Yankees will be doing the same, but they’ve already been doing it since the All-Star break.
Let’s get wild!
Since the inception of the wild-card playoff berth in 1995, 14 teams have advanced to the World Series and seven have won it. The 2019 Nationals were the last to do it, beating the 107-win Astros. A recap:
Year, Wild Card World Series result
2022 Phillies Lost, 4-2, to Astros
2019 Nationals Won, 4-3, over Astros
2014 Giants Won, 4-3, over Royals
2011 Cardinals Won, 4-3, over Rangers
2007 Rockies Lost, 4-0, to Red Sox
2006 Tigers Lost, 4-1, to Cardinals
2005 Astros Lost, 4-0, to White Sox
2004 Red Sox Won, 4-0, over Cardinals
2003 Marlins Won, 4-2, over Yankees
2002 Angels Won, 4-3, over Giants
2002 Giants Lost, 4-3, to Angels
2000 Mets Lost, 4-1, to Yankees
1997 Marlins Won, 4-3, over Cleveland