There’s a chance the Padres will return to Truist Park in October. They’re the chic choice to win the National League West, something they’ve done five times in their existence, most recently in 2006. Not for the first time, general manager A.J. Preller has built a roster laden with famous names. Last fall, minus one of its biggest names, his club made the NLCS.
It lost to Philadelphia there, but still: That was further than the 2022 Braves, who won 101 games, got. Preller has since added luminaries Xander Bogaerts, Yu Darvish, Nelson Cruz, Matt Carpenter and Michael Wacha. FanGraphs lists the Padres as the favorite to finish ahead of the Dodgers. A survey of ESPN’s many baseball experts left San Diego as the co-first choice to win the World Series. The Padres received seven votes, same as the Braves.
Such is the weight of San Diego’s talent that Preller spent $280 million over 11 seasons on Bogaerts, who’s a shortstop. The Padres already had Manny Machado, a $300M signee who has played shortstop, and Fernando Tatis, who’s 24 and one of the biggest young talents in the sport. When Tatis returns this month from his 80-game suspension for PEDs, he’ll no longer be a shortstop, or even an infielder. He’ll be a left fielder.
In the early ‘90s, the Padres’ batting order began with Tony Fernandez, Tony Gwynn, Gary Sheffield and Fred McGriff. Gwynn and McGriff are in the Hall of Fame; Sheffield has one final year on the ballot. These Padres have Tatis, Machado, Bogaerts and Juan Soto, whom Preller plucked from the downsizing Nationals last August. The Braves have reason to believe their everyday-eight-plus-DH is baseball’s best. So does San Diego.
Difference is, the Braves have finished first in the East five years running and, in 2021, won the World Series. The Padres have won one World Series game – that in 1984, when a lesser light named Kurt Bevacqua hit a home run against Detroit that moved him to blow a kiss to the crowd at Jack Murphy Stadium.
The Padres’ other World Series appearance came in 1998, when a team with Gwynn, Kevin Brown, Trevor Hoffman and that rat Jim Leyritz derailed the 106-win Braves in a dizzying NLCS. (An epic Game 5 saw John Rocker – yes, John Rocker – score a key run and Greg Maddux – yes, Greg Maddux – claim his only career save.) Those Padres were swept by the Yankees. A year later, the 103-win Braves would be swept by the Yankees.
From 1999 through 2020, the Padres didn’t win a playoff series. They made their noise in the offseason, most notably in the one following the 2014 regular season. New to the job, Preller sprung a flurry of moves, including two huge trades with the rebuilding Braves. He landed Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Wil Meyers, James Shields, Derek Norris, Will Middlebrooks, Craig Kimbrel and Melvin (nee B.J.) Upton.
Those Padres won the winter. The team went 74-88. By midseason, Preller was moving to rebuild the farm system he’d razed in the attempt to get great quick. Chief among those lost prospects was a pitcher San Diego drafted No. 7 overall in 2012, a a left-hander who’d just had Tommy John surgery. His name: Max Fried.
There’s a part of me that wonders if, yet again, the pumped-up Padres will be as great as they look on paper. (To be fair, that 2015 bunch never looked this good.) Another part of me hopes they do. The Braves have seen enough of L.A. in October, and what San Diego did last fall – eliminate the 101-win Mets and the 111-win Dodgers – was stunning stuff.
Thursday’s game was pretty stunning itself. The Braves led early. The Padres led late. The Braves tied it in the eighth. A.J. Minter worked through a difficult ninth. With two out and nobody on, Eddie Rosario and Orlando Arcia conjured up a winning rally. If the 7-6 walk-off win doesn’t turn out to be the season’s best, it’ll do for now.
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